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Sextet for two violins, two violas and two cellos

May 1932; first performed by the Kroll Sextet in Washington in April 1933; published in 1947

In less than a week in May 1932 Martinu composed his String Sextet. This work carried off the First Prize from 145 entries but he ignored the telegram informing him of his success, thinking it a joke played on him by his friends. The much-needed money stayed in his bank for some weeks until his wife and friends convinced him it was genuine, yet the Sextet, first given in Washington in April 1933 by the Kroll Sextet, was not published until 1947.

A note on the score states ‘double-bass may be added for use by string orchestra’, the part being printed at the foot of the score. This was clearly an afterthought, perhaps prompted by the imminent publishing of the piece fifteen years later and an attempt to obtain more performances. Martinu never heard the Sextet in the string orchestra version. The posthumous premiere was given by Paul Sacher in October 1959.

Martinu’s Sextet was written astonishingly quickly, in less than a week, which makes its structural originality and organic unity all the more surprising. The structural originality is such that the music combines at the same time duple, triple, quintuple and sextuple forms. The Sextet has three movements, hence triple (tri-partite) structure; but the first movement is bi-partite (slow, fast), hence a duple structure; the central movement is tri-partite (slow, fast, slow). Now, allied to the outer movements, we also have (with the Allegro scherzando of the central movement forming the fulcrum) a quintuple structure. But the tempo sequence, across the movements, is (i) Slow–Fast, (ii) Slow–Fast–Slow, (iii) Fast, producing a sextuple tempo structure. Such a unique multiple structure suggests some deeper processes are afoot in the music itself.

However interesting this basic ground-plan appears, it is the continually evolving musical argument of the Sextet which is consistently gripping, an early example in this composer’s work of ‘progressive tonality’—the evolution of one key, or tonal centre, from another. In this case, Martinu tackles one of the more difficult of such evolutions, that of adjacent tonalities. His Sextet begins in the depths of C minor in a mood of uncertain pessimism (almost, astoundingly, where Erwín Schulhoff’s Sextet ended), but concludes in a brilliantly vivid D major. Indeed, there are several other remarkable musical connections common to both works: the strong chromaticism of their first movements; the structural functions of texture (in both slow movements); the unifying cell of a few notes (Martinu’s opening Largo, rising from the lowest region, contains as its kernel the intervals of a semitone and a third); the challenge, in the tonal scheme of Martinu’s first movement, of the same flat supertonic (D flat) which destabilized Schulhoff’s work (but which, in the Martinu, behaves rather more in accordance with classical procedures). Here it falls to A flat, then semitonally to G, the dominant of C, in which key the movement, its anger subsided, ends unambiguously in the major mode with the assurance of E natural. The slow movement’s tonality rises by a semitone from E to F (in which key C is also the dominant, showing therefore that the ultimate tonality of the work cannot be C) and begins fugally as a double exposition, but only with regard to texture, not treatment: the kernel’s third now falls (after a counter-exposition of this material) to D major, in which key the music pauses. Another rise would take us to E flat (further destabilizing the original tonality) and in this key the central Allegretto scherzando dances across the fabric of the music with myriad textural changes. As this is, structurally, the centre of the work, it cannot rise to E natural (this would set in train the earlier harmonic sequence), so it must fall, to D, the high octaves of which on the violins usher in the recapitulation of the opening fugato which ends the movement a little uncertainly, but quietly, in F major. To confirm the major tonality of F, A natural has to be established—and is quietly asserted at the beginning of the finale in the bass. But this finale has other problems to consider. It has to resolve the emotional implications of the work (the enervation at the end of the second movement has to be overcome); to resolve the evolving harmonic demands of the Sextet, and the inherent pulse-structure: an extended fast ending in a mood of well-being is called for; finally, the full working of the Sextet’s basic organism has not yet been completed. Every one of these demands is fully met in this brilliant, light-hearted (but never flippant) finale, whose language may remind some of later Vaughan Williams (Dives and Lazarus) or Tippett (Concerto for Double String Orchestra and String Quartet No 2). The explanation lies in the common pentatonic, even Celtic, nature of these composers’ folk-based syntax, one which was foreign to the cosmopolitan Schulhoff. As Martinu’s Sextet reaches its conclusion, the intial destabilization must be faced. The pulse slows organically and a bare C–G in the bass (the last connection with Schulhoff’s Sextet) ushers the dance-like finale in a second time, which leaps another fifth, a vivid A natural clearly exposed as the dominant of D major, in which bright key the work triumphantly ends.

from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1992

Encouragé par sa nouvelle épouse de quelques mois, Martinu composa son Sextuor à cordes en mai 1932 en moins d’une semaine. L’œuvre emporta le premier prix sur 145 entrées, mais il ignora le télégramme l’informant de son succès pensant que c’était une plaisanterie que lui jouaient ses amis. L’argent bien nécessaire resta dans sa banque pendant quelques semaines jusqu’à ce que sa femme et ses amis aient réussi à le convaincre de la réalité de son succès. Cependant, le Sextuor, donné pour la première fois à Washington en avril 1933 par le Kroll Sextuor ne fut pas publié jusqu’en 1947.

Une note sur la partition précise «la double basse peut être ajoutée, si nécessaire, pour orchestre à cordes», la partie étant imprimée au bas de la partition. Ceci était clairement une idée rajoutée après coup, peut-être suggérée par la publication imminente du morceau, 15 ans plus tard, dans une tentative pour obtenir davantage de productions. Martinu n’entendit jamais le Sextuor dans sa version d’orchestre à cordes, la première exécution posthume fut produite par Paul Sacher en octobre 1959.

Le Sextuor de Martinu fut écrit d’une manière incroyablement rapide, ce qui rend son originalité structurale et son unité organique d’autant plus surprenante. L’originalité structurale est telle que la musique combine, en même temps, les formes binaire, triple, quintuple et sextuple. Le Sextuor a trois mouvements, d’où une structure triple (tripartite), mais le premier mouvement est bipartite (lent, rapide), d’où une structure binaire, le mouvement central est tripartite (lent, rapide, lent). Maintenant, allié aux mouvements extérieurs, nous avons aussi (avec l’Allegro scherzando du mouvement central formant le pivot) une structure quintuple. Mais la séquence du tempo, à travers les mouvements, est: (i) Lent—Rapide, (ii) Lent—Rapide—Lent, (iii) Rapide, produisant une structure de tempo sextuple. Une structure multiple, unique comme celle-ci suggère qu’il existe des processus plus profonds dans la musique elle-même.

extrait des notes rédigées par Robert Matthew-Walker © 1992
Français: Marie-Françoise Wilson

Seine junge Frau spornte Martinu an und in knapp einer Woche komponierte er sein Streichsextett im Mai 1932. Bei einer Teilnehmerzahl von 145 erhielt dieses Werk den Ersten Preis. Martinuo schenkte dem Telegramm mit der Nachricht seines Erfolg keine Beachtung, denn er dachte, seine Freunde hätten ihm einen Streich gespielt. Das sehr notwendige Preisgeld blieb mehrere Wochen lang in der Bank liegen, bis ihn seine Frau und Freunde endlich von der Wahrheit überzeugten. Das Sextett—Uraufführung im April 1933 durch das Kroll-Sextett in Washington—wurde erst 1947 veröffentlicht.

Ein Hinweis in der Partitur mit dem Inhalt „Bei Verwendung eines Streichorchesters kann ein Kontrabaß zugefügt werden“ (diese Partie war am Fuß der Partitur gedruckt) zeigt, daß dies deutlich ein nachträglicher Einfall war, der vielleicht durch die unmittelbar bevorstehende Veröffentlichung des Stückes 15 Jahre später geweckt wurde, um die Anzahl der Aufführungen zu steigern. Martinu hat die Streichorchester-Version seines Sextetts nie selbst gehört—die Erstaufführung wurde nach seinem Tode im Oktober 1959 von Paul Sacher gegeben.

Martinus Sextett in erstaunlich kurzer Zeit—knapp eine Woche—geschrieben war, wodurch seine strukturelle Originalität und organische Einheit um so überraschender sind. Strukturelle Originalität bedeutet hier, daß die Musik gleichzeitig Doppel-, Dreifach-, Fünffach- und Sechsfachformen kombiniert. Das Sextett besteht aus drei Sätzen, daher die Dreifachstruktur (Tripartition); der erste Satz hat jedoch eine Bipartitionsform (langsam, schnell), daher Doppelstruktur; der mittlere Satz ist eine Tripartition (langsam, schnell, langsam). Verbunden mit den äußeren Sätzen liegt jetzt aber auch eine Fünffachstruktur, wobei das Allegro scherzando im Mittelsatz den Drehpunkt bildet. Die Tempofolge der Sätze ist jedoch: (i) Langsam—Schnell, (ii) Langsam—Schnell—Langsam, (iii) Schnell, wodurch eine sechsfache Tempostruktur erzeugt wird. Solch eine einzigartig vielfache Struktur weist darauf hin, daß in der Musik selbst tiefere Prozesse im Gange sind.

aus dem Begleittext von Robert Matthew-Walker © 1992
Deutsch: Meckie Hellary


Martinů & Schulhoff: String Sextets


Movement 1: Lento – Allegro poco moderato
Movement 2: Andantino – Allegro scherzando – Tempo 1
Movement 3: Allegretto poco moderato

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