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The unconventional feature of the sextets written by Brahms was the number of instruments in the ensemble; Brahms chose to complement and expand the traditional quartet with additional cello and viola, for it enabled intensification of the sound and made all instruments equal in strength. Two additional instruments are used to embellish composition instead of directly contributing to full harmonies, moreover, they make music louder and thicker and also give additional volume while sounding either simultaneously or parallellously. Brahms’ sextets are a kind of challenge and the attempt to stand out and supersede Beethoven in his mastery. Involvement of two cellos brings fresh air to the composing pattern, as the second cello is predominantly a means of embellishment and melodics, while the first cello is responsible for nourishing the compositing with substantial bass support.
The sextet No. 1 in B-Flat Major, Op. 18 is a string sextet composed in 1860 by the young Brahms and published about two years later. The sextet is a very beautiful romantic piece – and a rather long one, which is typical for young Brahms - consisting of four movements, three of them being more than ten minutes in length. The first movement is called Allegro, ma non troppo and is a brilliant calm “intro” to the composition, which reminds of sonata form and serves as a lyrical or even “pastoral” (Dean Hansen) ingredient of the sextet. The second movement is considered the most famous and powerful: it is called Andante, ma moderato and is presented by variations on lurid themes with a rather interesting ending. However, as Brahms followed the rules of structure, variations are rather strict in this respect, yet they demonstrated influence of Baroque traditions. The figures of the movement are rather diverse, and the tempo of their change leaves a listener with the thrilling sensation, until the light-hearted and good-humored scherzo
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