String Sextet

Antonín Dvořák

String Sextet in A major

B80, Op. 48

About this work

Dvorák approached this sextet with confidence, fresh from the success of his Slavonic Dances. It's a particularly Czech-sounding work, less beholden to German models than some of his earlier scores, although there is a Schubertian abundance of endearing melodies.

The first movement, Allegro moderato, is based on three contrasting but generally sunny themes spun out at length but awarded a comparatively short development before being recapitulated in F sharp instead of the expected tonic key. The second movement is marked Dumka (Elegie): Poco allegretto, and has an improvisatory feeling thanks to its asymmetrical phrases. It begins with a sighing melody that might serve as a lullaby if it weren't played over a pizzicato, march-like accompaniment. At length this gives way to a slower, gypsy-like section without fully abandoning the gently marching pizzicato. The opening material returns for the final third of the movement. Next comes an even more thoroughly Czech movement, a Presto designated as a Furiant. Although it lacks the cross rhythms associated with that dance form, it is indeed a vigorous, highly physical piece, more playful than imposing. The central trio section eases off a bit, and includes a reference to, though not an exact quotation from, Dvorák's Slavonic Dance No. 1. The final movement is a B minor theme with five variations. The theme, marked Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino, evokes an eighteenth century minuet. The first variation gives the theme a more flowing character, with the accompaniment lines providing a gentle ebb and flow. The second variation is a little Mendelssohnian scherzo; the third is contemplative and even mysterious, again alluding to an earlier Slavonic Dance. The fourth continues in this vein, but now with an agitated undercurrent, and the fifth, making good use of pizzicato, transfers this material to a more bucolic realm. A final section seems to be another full variation, more energetic now, but it turns out to be a long, boisterous stretta, which Dvorák seems reluctant to bring to a full close.