Antonín Dvorák composed the Sextet for Strings in May of 1878. The first performance took place on July 29, 1879, in the home of violinist, Joseph Joachim. Joachim was so taken with the work that he organized the public premiere in Berlin on November 9, 1879. The violinist was also responsible for introducing the work to English audiences when it was performed in London twice in 1880. the sextet was also presented by various other ensembles in music venues around Europe and overseas: Dresden, Cologne, Prague, Wiesbaden and New York.
The work, which followed a set of Bohemian styled pieces modelled after Brahms' Hungarian Dances, blends the folk-inspired idioms of his earlier work Slavonic Dances with the Viennese lyricism of Schubert and Brahms. It was written in the middle of Dvorák’s, so-called, Slavic period when the composer strived to introduce Slavic folk elements into his music. Inspired by the Dumka and Furiant middle movements, Alec Robertson wrote, “The work has the effect of a brightly coloured travel poster advertising Czechoslovakia.” The Dumka being a traditional Slavic ballad describing heroic deeds and the Furiant, a Czech dance with a fiery character. The Sextet was published by Simrock in September the year following its composition and was important to the public reception of the foreign composer. It was Dvorak’s first chamber piece performed abroad, even before the Czech premiere took place.
Arnold Schoenberg completed the score of his tone poem Verklärte Nacht or Transfigured Night in its original form as a string sextet, on December 1, 1899. When the premiere took place on March 18, 1902, Schoenberg reported that the concert, "was hissed and caused riots and fist fights." Even one of the less demonstrative audience members declared that the piece "sounded as if someone had smeared the score of Tristan und Isolde while it was still wet."
Schoenberg's inspiration for Transfigured Night was a poem of the same title from the collection Weib und Welt (Woman and World) by Richard Dehmel. Henry E. Krehbiel, the American music critic, wrote the following paraphrase of the poem as part of a program note for a New York performance in the 1920s:
"Two mortals walk through a cold, barren grove. The moon sails over the tall oaks, which send their scrawny branches up through the unclouded moonlight. A woman speaks. She confesses a sin to the man at her side: she is with child and he is not its father. She had lost belief in happiness and, longing for life's fullness, for motherhood and mother's duty, she had surrendered herself, shuddering, to the embraces of a man she knew not. She had thought herself blessed, but now life has avenged itself upon her, by giving her the love of him she walks with. She staggers onward, gazing with lackluster eye at the moon which follows her.
"A man speaks. Let her not burden her soul with thoughts of guilt. See, the moon's sheen enwraps the universe. Together they are driving over chill waters, but a flame from each warms the other. It, too, will transfigure the little stranger, and she will bear the child to him and make him, too, a child. They sink into each other's arms. Their breaths meet in kisses in the air. Two mortals walk through the wondrous moonlight."
This music Schoenberg composed is warm and Romantic, giving no indication of the style its composer was to become identified with a dozen years later as founder of the Second Viennese School and architect of the twelve tones method of composition.
Alixandra Porembski, English Language Annotator