Beethoven's Sextet for Two Horns and String Quartet, Op. 81b is a bit of an oddity in the composer's catalog. The sextet for the very old-fashioned instrumentation of two horns, two violins, viola and cello, is especially rare. The work seems to have been written around 1795, in the period when Beethoven was beginning to make his way in Viennese society as a composer and keyboard virtuoso after a period of study with Haydn. The work has the light-hearted, easy-going tone of the serenade/divertimento tradition, although the way that Beethoven writes for the horns makes the Sextet unusual. In this work, the horns are featured, with brilliant fanfares and technically challenging passages, while the four strings are relegated to a subsidiary role. In this arrangement, the Eb clarinet and a solo Bb clarinet play the role of the horns, while the rest of the choir assume the position of the string parts.
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