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Czech composer Antonín Dvorák at age thirty-six  had risen to the front rank of European composers, and had done so with works that identified their national, popular aura in their title.

The first book of Slavonic Dances for piano four hands, written within a few weeks at the beginning of the year 1878, had become a genuine hit with the public.

Just a few months later, in May 1878, Dvorák explored the question of how far the style-defining characteristics of the dances could be transferred to other genres in the formal tradition of the sonata and the symphony, and especially his preferred medium of chamber music. Finally, the finished score of a string sextet in A major lay on his desk, answering that question not just adequately but in highly impressive way.

On the one hand, the four-movement work, premiered by the augmented Joachim Quartet in Berlin at the end of July 1879 and published by Simrock shortly thereafter, confronts the influence of the Austro-German school in a very responsible, manner.

On the other hand, it is the spontaneity of inspiration that really captivates the listener. ‘That fellow has more ideas than all of us’, an astounded Brahms is said to have declared in 1875 when a score by this previously unknown Bohemian came into his hands for the first time. ‘Anyone else could pick up their main themes from his rejects.’

And years later, on the occasion of a Viennese performance of Dvorák’s Sextet, it was Brahms again who enthused to his friend the composer and conductor Richard Heuberger over its ‘wonderful invention, freshness and beauty of sound’, observing ‘I always have the feeling that people don’t admire this piece enough’.

Here is the second movement from the Sextet by Antonin Dvorak:

6 months ago | Read Full Story
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