Hyperion Records

String Sextet in D major, Op 10
composer
1917; first performed on 2 May 1917

Recordings
'Korngold: String Sextet; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht' (CDH55466)
Korngold: String Sextet; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55466  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Details
Movement 1: Moderato – Allegro
Track 1 on CDH55466 [9'47] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Adagio
Track 2 on CDH55466 [10'44] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Intermezzo (Moderato, con grazia)
Track 3 on CDH55466 [7'04] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Finale (Presto)
Track 4 on CDH55466 [7'13] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

String Sextet in D major, Op 10
The Sextet in D major is Korngold’s finest chamber work and is a direct descendant of the sextets of Brahms. Combining the melodic sweetness of late German romanticism with the rich textures and epic pictorial imagery of the Viennese Jugendstil, the work is nevertheless decisively stamped with Korngold’s distinctive personal idiom. The critic Josef Reitler reviewing the first peformance (on 2 May 1917) proclaimed, ‘From the very first bar, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s signature is unmistakable. Of the composers alive today, apart from Strauss, there can be no one who writes as personally and as individually as he …’ It was written just before the outbreak of the First World War, on a summer holiday in Alt-Aussee, when Korngold was just seventeen years old, and it was composed simultaneously with his opera Violanta, Opus 8.

The Sextet is in four movements. In the first, the introductory triplet figure (characteristic of a fugal subject) is the foundation stone of a highly intricate framework that is richly textured. The main theme, song-like and ardent, develops for over thirty bars before bridging to a lyrical subsidiary theme in B major. The tonality, while formally expressed in key signatures, is so restless that the latter become virtually superfluous. The development and subsequent fugato leads to the thoughtful coda.

The Adagio, which was composed first, commences with an impassioned, declamatory appoggiatura which presages the ‘Vision Scene’ in Korngold’s most famous opera, Die tote Stadt (1920). The unaccompanied cello enunciates the main theme which is taken up by the ensemble in a succession of impassioned statements supported by intense double- and triple-stopping with, for Korngold, some highly unusual and extreme bi-tonal harmony. Sensuous and erotic, this movement looks ahead to his masterpiece, the opera Das Wunder der Heliane (1927), and comes closest to Verklärte Nacht in mood and intensity.

By direct contrast, the Intermezzo, a graceful 6/8 in F major, is one of Korngold’s most lovable creations. The main theme is a variation of his motto of rising fourths (from the Sinfonietta, Opus 5, composed in 1913) which he liked to include somewhere in all of his major works, sometimes hidden, sometimes boldly stated; other examples include the Finale to his String Quartet No 1 (1922) and the Act 1 Love Duet from his last opera Kathrin (1932–7). This intermezzo is intensely nostalgic and decidedly Viennese, and gives rise to some scintillating episodes. It may very well have been composed to a programme and is obviously inspired by some of Mahler’s great hymns to nature; note the Mahlerian glissandi which occasionally swoop down in octaves. The touching second subject is one of Korngold’s loveliest thoughts, capturing that peculiar and unique Viennese sigh of sentimentality. The wistful conclusion, where the violin whistles, as it were, the melody one last time while everything ‘slips away like a dream in a moonlit night’ (as one critic put it) is finished with a Korngoldian cadence that is magical.

The Finale—like all Korngold finales—is high-spirited and good-humoured and races along at quite a pace. There are cyclical references to the previous movements while the second subject, jaunty and robust, looks ahead to the finale of his last major work, the Symphony in F sharp major some thirty years later. It can be seen from this brief examination that there is an ongoing continuity to Korngold’s music with the themes and motifs recurring naturally from his earliest to his last compositions. The Sextet is beautifully rounded off as it returns to the opening theme of the first movement, before the emphatic conclusion in D major.

The interplay of motifs, the intricate filigree work of the inner voices, the contrapuntal textures and the masterful scoring for each of the six instruments make this Sextet one of the finest in the canon. It is all the more extraordinary that it was written by a teenager. One is reminded of Mendelssohn’s String Symphonies or Schubert’s Octet, written at about the same age.

Hearing it now, it is easy to understand the message behind a famous postcard sent to Korngold around this time by Zemlinsky, then time resident in Prague and Musical Director of the German Theatre there. Hearing that his illustrious pupil had been taking instruction from another teacher, he wrote: ‘Dear Erich, I hear you are studying with Graedener now. Is he making any progress?’

from notes by Brendan Carroll © 1990

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA66425 track 3
Intermezzo (Moderato, con grazia)
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-90-42503
Duration
7'04
Recording date
14 April 1990
Recording venue
The Great Hall, Frognal, Hampstead, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Andrew Hallifax
Hyperion usage
  1. Korngold: String Sextet; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (CDA66425)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: September 1990
    Deletion date: January 2012
    Superseded by CDH55466
  2. Korngold: String Sextet; Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (CDH55466)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: October 2013
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
  3. Hyperion monthly sampler – October 2013 (HYP201310)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: October 2013
    Download-only monthly sampler
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