Three string sextets from Schoenberg, Borodin and Strauss.
While Alexander Borodin (1833-1887) is fairly well-known, it is his orchestral pieces and not his chamber music which has made his name. Nine out of ten people could not tell you that the famous Borodin melody in the popular Broadway musical Kismet is from his Second-String Quartet. But Borodin wrote several lovely chamber music works. These fall into two distinct periods. The first is from his time in Germany during the late 1850’s when he was doing post graduate work in chemistry. His main occupation was that of a Professor Chemistry at the university in St. Petersburg. Music was only a hobby he engaged in for relaxation. The second period dates from his time in St. Petersburg when he came under the influence of and received considerable help from Rimsky-Korsakov. Tchaikovsky was to quip, “Oh Borodin, a good chemist, but he cannot write a proper measure without Rimsky helping him.” The String Sextet in d minor of which, unfortunately, only the first two movements survive, is thought to have been composed during 1860 while Borodin furthered his chemistry studies in Heidelberg, where he divided his time between the laboratory and frequent chamber music evenings. He may well have written the work for performance at one of these evenings. Of the Sextet, Borodin himself referred to its as ‘Mendelssohnian’. But though some of that master’s influence can be heard, it is neither obvious nor excessive.
Even though only the first two movements of this extraordinary piece have survived, the Sextet still stands as a tribute both to Borodin’s musical imagination as well as his compositional skill. As such, it demolishes the argument that Tchaikovsky and other critics often bandied about, that Borodin either had no compositional skill, or what skill he had, he gained from Rimsky Korsakov and Mussorgsky. The first movement, a charming Allegro, is canonic in nature with each of the various voices entering with the theme one after the other. The second movement, Andante, is clearly based on a soulful Russian folk melody.
In addition, we are pleased to offer this Sextet in a version for 2 Violins, 2 Violas, Cello and Bass. Our bass part was made by Anthony Scelba, noted bass soloist, Professor of Music and Director of the Concert Artists Program of Kean University. In an effort to give bass players a chance to play many of the great works of the chamber music repertoire, Professor Scelba has made several highly acclaimed transcriptions, including one for the Schubert Quintet D.956, which has been recorded.
The Sextet remained as a forgotten manuscript until it was finally published by the Soviet State Music Publishers toward the mid-20th century. It is not clear if this edition was ever available in the West. Our edition is a reprint of that one, however, we have enlarged the notes and, as much as possible, cleaned up the copy. While our new reprint is perfectly serviceable for performance, players should realize that Soviet editions, including this one, were generally of very low quality and do not match those from western countries. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact. We believe, the Sextet will certainly be a welcome addition to the thin repertoire for string sextet and will undoubtedly appeal to amateurs.