Movement 1: Allegro risoluto
Movement 2: Tranquillo: Andante
Movement 3: Burlesca: Allegro molto con spirito
Movement 4: Molto adagio
The first movement was finished on 27 April 1920 in Dresden; he returned to it four years later, in Prague, adding the other three movements by the end of May. In Dresden, Schulhoff had made a deep study of Schoenberg’s music: the strongly chromatic nature of the Sextet’s first movement reveals such study, although it is not consciously atonal. For, in spite of the work’s deeply depressive emotional state and seeming absence of tonality, it is derived from, and virtually underpinned throughout the four movements by, a constantly destabilizing chord of C–Db–G. These three notes are specially significant throughout the piece. They begin the work, and form a pedal ostinato for the main themes in the first movement coda. In its initial shape and in its constantly fluid transformations, the three-note cell permeates the entire Sextet, lending it a monothematic character—the pedal C–G opens the second movement in a calmer and more peaceable mood dominated by a yearning, long-breathed cantilena (‘senza espressione’) which is heard three times. In this movement the texture of the work assumes a greater structural function, revealing the influence of late Debussy, in particular his late sonatas. The Burlesca is an incisive 5/8 movement of tempestuous character, fiendishly virtuosic for the players. The finale also shows the influence of late Debussy, being a lyrical meditation upon earlier material which, constantly descending, eventually returns to, and ends with, a muted chord of C–Db–G. The chord demands that the Db is heard as a flattened supertonic, and so one could claim that Schulhoff’s Sextet is in C, a rough-hewn work of deep brooding fearfulness.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1992