Urtext of Brahms' Sextets Seeks to Eliminate Historical Errors

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Urtext of Brahms' Sextets Seeks to Eliminate Historical Errors

Editor Christopher Hogwood tackles works by a notorious self-editor

BRAHMS' STRING SEXTETS, Op. 18, in Bi- major (1860), for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Violoncellos, and Op. 36 in G major (1864-5), for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, and 2 Violoncellos, are among the composer's most popular chamber works. The Beethovenian style of Opus 18 reveals Brahms's youthful revitalization of Classical structures. Opus 36, one of whose themes famously spells out the name of his erstwhile fiancée, Agathe von Siebold, was written to exorcise his guilt after their doomed love affair.

It's surprising that until now there has been no scholarly edition of the sextets upon which performers could base a historically conscientious interpretation. Editions by Kalmus, International, and others are problematic, with numerous wrong notes and editorial idiosyncrasies. Christopher Hogwood's new Bärenreiter urtext is long awaited - and most welcome.

As Hogwood notes in his preface to the scores, attempting a "definitive" version of any Brahms work is fraught with minefields. Brahms notoriously revised, reworked, and destroyed sketches and drafts for many compositions. Several composer-approved copies of the sextets from Brahms' time exist, including arrangements for piano. To complicate matters further, it was common practice in the 19th century to publish chamber works in parts only - annotations to the manuscript parts didn't always make it into the full score. …