January tour: music for sextet

Our first tour of 2018 is upon us and we thought we'd share some thoughts on the sextet repertoire we'll be enjoying playing to lovely audiences in Stamford, Skipton and York.  For more information about the concerts, please go to our Diary page.

If you'd like to hear some of the music, you can listen to us play and talk on Radio 3 'In Tune' from Friday 12 January, available on BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast. The link should take you straight to us, but if it doens't work we're on a 1'21'40.

You can also watch our last concert live-streamed from York on Lyons Live at 7:30 on Wednesday 24 January!

Welcome to the Department of Music at the University of York YouTube channel. 

About the programme

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)
Sextet in E-flat op.71
I. Adagio; Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Minuet. Quasi Allegretto
IV. Rondo. Allegro

In August 1809, Beethoven sent to the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel his wind sextet, along with two songs, in part as payment for some books and copies of works of his that Breitkopf had already published:

“The Sextet is from my early things and, what’s more, was written in one night. Nothing more can be said about it than that it was written by a composer who has since produced at least a few better works; however, to some people, such works are the best.”

Breitkopf published the sextet as op.71 in January 1810, but sketches for the minuet suggest the piece was probably composed prior to 1796, and certainly refute Beethoven’s suggestion that the piece was produced “in one night”. His employer at this time was the brother of the Austrian Emperor, Maximilian Franz, Elector and Archbishop of Cologne, who kept court in Bonn, and Beethoven’s colleagues there included the horn player, and future publisher, Nicolaus Simrock, and Anton Reicha, later composer of wind quintets. Further weighing against Beethoven’s attempts to diminish the significance of the work is a review from the only know performance of it, in April 1805 at a benefit concert for the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh. It was described as “a composition which shines resplendent by reason of its lively melodies, unconstrained harmonies, and a wealth of new and surprising ideas.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) arranged Robert Percival
Serenade in C minor K.388/406
I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Menuetto (in canone)
IV. Allegro

Harmoniemusik (i.e. music for small wind ensemble) of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries was often light in nature, and sometimes used as background music – though the distinction between ‘background’ and ‘concert’ music is more difficult to make in a period where concert audiences rarely listened silently or attentively. Mozart’s C minor Serenade, in this respect, is unique: its tonality, its dark, dramatic intensity, and its complex contrapuntal writing all set it well outside the norm. The stimulus and indeed the exact year of the Serenade’s composition are unknown, but it is presumed to date from the mid-1780s. The extreme difficulty of the writing has been taken as a clue that it might have been written for the Emperor’s own wind octet, which consisted of the very finest players in Vienna. 

In 1787 Mozart made a version of the work for string quintet with 2 violas. Musicologists’ opinions of this string arrangement have ranged from “mechanical” and “made purely for ‘business’ reasons”, diminishing the “power and beauty” of the wind writing, to the idea that Mozart obviously felt the original work was somehow too good for wind instruments and that he had the string version in mind all along!

Around 1800 an anonymous version of the Serenade for six-part Harmonie was advertised in Vienna, but this hasn’t survived. In the spirit of the classical arrangers I have created a possible reconstruction of this version, but which also incorporates some of Mozart’s own revisions from his version for strings. 

Carl Maria von Weber (1786 – 1826)
Adagio and Rondo
I. Adagio
II. Rondo. Presto

Two short movements, composed within weeks of each other in 1808: the romantic Adagio in E-flat is dated the 6th July, and the witty and humorous Rondo in B-flat the 24th June. Whether Weber intended them to be performed together, or to be part of a larger piece, is now unknown, but they make an effective pair, and Weber re-used the music of the Rondo twice again, in his incidental music Der Tod Heinrichs IV of 1818, and in the revised version of Euryanthe in 1825.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) arranged Robert Percival
Symphony no.39 in E-flat K.543
I. Adagio; Allegro
II. Andante con moto
III. Menuetto e Trio
IV. Allegro

Harmonien always depended on their members to provide new repertoire, unique to their ensembles, and this is the role that Robert fulfils within Boxwood & Brass. Whilst the majority of historical arrangements are of opera, there are also important versions of orchestral and chamber works, most notably of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony for nine players, possibly prepared with the composer’s approval. A handful of movements of Mozart symphonies were also arranged, but also only for the larger ensemble. Looking for a complete symphony to arrange for Boxwood & Brass, for Robert, Mozart’s 39th was an obvious first candidate as the orchestral original heavily features a wind section dominated by a pair of clarinets (and without oboes). This symphony is, of course, one of Mozart’s famous final three, all composed quickly during the summer of 1788, possibly as a unified whole. The music moves from a majestic introduction to the substantial first movement, through a rather more pastoral andante, and the folk-inspired minuet, to the lively and virtuosic finale. My arrangement is not an attempt to convey the sound of the orchestral original, but rather an interpretation, or representation of the original for another ensemble, something akin to a translation, creating a new work for Harmonie, which hopefully allows textures, colours and lines obscured in orchestral performances to be revealed.