Sextet in e minor, Op.33
For Piano, 2 Violins, Viola, Cello & Bass
Felix Weingartner (1863-1942) was born in Zara, Dalmatia, today's Zadar, Croatia, to Austrian parents. In 1883, he went to the Leipzig Conservatory where he studied composition with Carl Reinecke. He also studied privately with Franz Liszt in Weimar. Weingartner was one of the most famous and successful conductors of his time, holding positions in Hamburg, Mannheim, Danzig, Munich, Berlin and Vienna, where he succeeded Gustav Mahler as Director of the Imperial Opera. Despite his demanding career as a conductor, Weingartner, like Mahler, thought of himself equally as a composer and devoted considerable time to composition. He wrote several symphonies, numerous operas, some instrumental concertos, and a considerable amount of chamber music, including four string quartets, a piano sextet and a string quintet. Additionally he wrote a great number of vocal works and instrumental sonatas. Though many of his works originally achieved a fair amount acclaim, they quickly disappeared from the concert stage. It is only in the past few years that their excellence has been rediscovered.
The Piano Sextet was composed in 1904. It is a dark, brooding late romantic work written on a big scale. The first theme to the opening movement, Allegro appassionato, is a powerful, striving subject which dissipates before achieving a climax. Rather it leads to the dramatic second theme which is which is hopeful and optimistic. The second movement, Allegretto, begins as an intermezzo. The striking main theme is a lopsided, grotesque dance of the marionettes, accentuated by the rhythm. The second subject, in the violins, couldn't be more different, sweet and highly romantic. A third melody is calmer but also lovely. A slow movement, Adagio, comes next. Weingartner instructs that it is to be played as if improvising but in tempo. It begins with a long piano introduction which certainly creates the exact mood of a pianist improvising. Gradually, and quite softly, the strings enter, embellishing but not taking center stage from the piano. Finally, the piano fades into the background as the strings begin to rise. (our sound-bite starts here) This leads to a quicker middle section, followed by a highly dramatic episode. The massive finale is simply titled Danza Funebre, with no tempo marking. The pounding introductory measures give no hint of the sad funereal dance which follows. Once can almost visualize a procession. From funereal the music moves on to the macbre. The gloom is only lightened briefly in the middle section which has a more elegiac quality.
This is a superb work, not to be missed on any piano sextet evening. Weingartner's Piano Sextet calls for the same combination as some other works we offer which you may wish to obtain (click on links) so you can make a night of it. These include Mikhail Glinka's Grand Sextet, William Sterndale Bennett's Piano Sextet, Sergei Lyapunov's Piano Sextet, Paul Juon's Piano Sextet, George Onslow's Piano Sextet, and Glinka's Divertimento Brillante and Henri Bertini's Piano Sextet No.3