The MCO understands the importance of music education, which is why we’ve developed a unique instructional resource for teachers and parents. Written by music educator Beryl Peters, Ph.D, MCO’s Listening Guides provide a clear and thorough analysis of the repertoire featured in our concerts. They offer a perfect primer to the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Britten and beyond for K-8 and 9-12 students — with engaging historical anecdotes and simple theory for younger students, and more complex information for older students. Indeed, just about anyone can learn a thing or two from our MTS Future First Listening Guides … so dig in!


Antonin Dvořák (1841-1904) composed the Sextet in A major, Op. 48 in 1878. It was premiered as a private performance at the home of the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim. This marked the first time that Dvořák’s work had been heard outside of Bohemia (now Czechoslovakia), his home. The work was extremely well received and was the first of his compositions to enjoy international success.

The sextet was written during a period of composition that is known as Dvořák’s Slavic period. During this time, Dvořák’s writing featured Slavic folk elements which can be heard throughout the four movements of the Sextet.


Manitoba Music Curricular Connections

9-12 Making: The learner develops competencies for listening by listening critically with discrimination and purpose to:

  • situate and contextualize music (e.g., cultural/ ideological/historical/social contexts, music style, genre, tradition, or praxis, etc.)
  • support enjoyment and understanding of music
  • make and interpret music expressively and creatively
  • inform analysis, interpretation, judgement, appreciation, and evaluation

K-8 Understanding Music in Context: Demonstrate awareness of the intended meanings and/or purposes of music encountered in own performance and listening experiences

9-12 Connecting: The learner develops understandings about the significance of music by connecting music to diverse contexts.

The following questions can help you listen to this work:

1 Form in music refers to the musical architecture or the way the music is structured. Can you hear that the Sextet in A major is structured in four movements? They are:

  1. Allegro moderato (moderately lively and quickly).
  2. Dumka. Poco allegretto (A Dumka folk song played slightly moderately fast).
  3. Furiant. Presto (An extremely fast Bohemian dance).
  4. Finale. Tema con variazioni. Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino (Theme and Variations, fairly fast and gracefully, almost at an andantino tempo).

Each of the four sections or movements also has a particular form. The form of the Allegro moderato first movement of the Sextet is the classic sonata form structure that contains: a first section called exposition that presents the main themes (in this example, 3 distinct theme groups can be heard); a middle development section where the themes are varied and developed; and a final recapitulation section that re-states the main themes.

The first theme is presented right at the beginning of the first movement. Can you hear a quiet, gentle theme marked at the outset by repeated notes? The second theme can be identified by a melodic leap followed by an off-beat three note rhythmic figure that creates an accent on beat 4, next followed by four notes walking upwards and then turning downwards for two notes. A short closing theme occurs at a section marked molto tranquillo (very calmly) that contains two long notes followed by a descending scale passage.

In the development section where Dvořák develops the main melodies, can you hear the three note off-beat rhythmic pattern of the second theme throughout this section?

Can you hear the main themes return again in the recapitulation section? Can you hear how the second theme is varied and moves through many different tonalities so that it sounds like another development section contained within the recapitulation?

Dvořák used a ballad type folk song form called “Dumka” for his second movement. Dvořák used this song-form in other compositions he wrote and generally the dumkas featured contrasts between melancholy themes and more joyous ones. In this work you will hear that the opening main subject or theme is melancholy. Can you hear that the second theme, identified by contrasting Hungarian melodic sounds, is still a melancholy theme?

The third movement is marked “Furiant”. A Furiant is a very fast and fiery Bohemian/Czech folk dance with shifting accents and alternating between 2/4 and 3/4 time. However this particular version of “Furiant” does not feature the alternating 2 and 3 beat rhythms and it also lacks a fiery nature. Can you hear that the structure of this movement is an A B A scherzo and trio form where the outer sections are the same or similar and the middle section is a contrasting one?

The fourth movement takes the form of a theme and variations. After the theme is stated in the opening of the fourth movement, can you hear how it is varied throughout this movement? Dvořák numbers the different variations in the music — can you hear how many different variations of the main theme Dvořák composed for this movement?

2 The Sextet Op. 48 was written for 2 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos. Can you distinguish between these instruments as you hear them playing? Can you hear the instruments trading melodies back and forth? This style of music featuring independent melodic lines relating with each other is called contrapuntal. When do you hear individual instruments or sections and when do you hear the sextet all playing together? What instruments are given predominant motifs heard in this work?

3 Dvořák uses expressive elements (musical elements that express certain feelings or dispositions), varying tempos (the speed of the music), and Dynamics (the volume of the music) to create interest. Which movements use louder music? Which movements use quieter music?

When do the dynamics change dramatically and what effect does that create? When does the music get suddenly louder (crescendo) or quieter (decrescendo), for example, in the Furiant? Also in the Furiant can you hear loud accents that contrast with very quiet sections? How does that affect the mood of the work?

Which movements are faster or slower in tempo than others? Which movement has the fastest tempo of all? Can you hear contrasting fast and slow tempos in the Dumka second movement?

Can you hear contrasts between staccato (short sounds) and legato sections (flowing, connected sounds)? Can you hear places where the players pluck the strings (pizzicato)?

4 How is rhythm used in this Sextet? Many of the rhythms of Bohemian/Czech folk dances and songs are heard in this work and there is considerable rhythmic variation. Do you hear dotted note patterns (long then short sounds)? Do you hear off beat rhythms that create the effect of an accent on beat four? Can you pick out the three note off-beat rhythmic pattern of the second theme heard throughout the development section of the first movement? Do you hear even rhythmic patterns? Uneven long short long short patterns?

5 How is melody or pitch used in this Sextet? Many of the wealth of melodies featured in this work are taken from Bohemian or Czech folk tunes — can you hear those qualities in the melodies in this work? Dvořák is known for his beautiful melodies. Can you pick out parts of these melodies that can be easily sung or hummed?

Can you hear melodies and melody fragments repeated and combined in different ways? Do you hear high sounds or pitches? Do you hear low sounds or pitches? Can you hear when the melody notes are repeated or moving up or down in scale like patterns? Can you hear when melody notes jump higher or lower in pitch?

Examples of different melodic treatment can be heard in the three themes. The first four melodic notes of theme 1 following an initial upbeat note are repeated. By contrast, the first two notes of the second theme are a leap of a fifth. The second theme continues with other leaps and then in the development section these leaps become even larger — can you hear large 8 notes melodic leaps? An 8 note interval is called an octave. The first two long notes of the third theme are a rising skip apart (an interval of a third) followed by a descending scale pattern ending in a leap down.

6 What different kinds of textures do you hear in this work? Do you hear how Dvořák creates rich sonorities with the instruments of the sextet? By adding a second viola and cello to the traditional string quartet configuration, Dvořák created rich tone colours and colourful harmonies, borrowing from sounds found in Slavic dances and folk-songs.

7 What kinds of instrumental timbre do you hear? Timbre is the different qualities of sound that can be heard, for example the kinds of sounds that the string instruments make when they play together. When does the timbre of the music change because certain instruments are added or taken away? How is the timbre of this work where all the instruments are string instruments contrast to timbres in the Beethoven octet where the instruments are oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns?


Reflections and Responses (K-8 Valuing; 9-12 Responding)

Grades 9-12 Responding

The learner develops and uses critical reflection and thinking for music learning:

  • the learner generates initial reactions to music experiences
  • the learner critically listens to, observes, and describes music experiences
  • the learner analyzes and interprets music experiences
  • the learner constructs meanings about music experiences

Grades K-8 Valuing

Students analyze, reflect on, and construct meaning in response to their own and others’ music:

  • students analyze their own and others
  • musical excerpts, works, and performances
  • students form personal responses to and construct meaning from their own and others’ music

1 What is your immediate response to this music? Does this music sound like any other music you have heard before? What does this music make you think of?

2 What feelings or moods did it seem that Dvořák was trying to communicate to his audience in this work? What music elements seemed to be important to him?

3 What adjectives might describe the mood that you felt when listening to this work? Can you identify what musical elements may have created that mood for you? When did the mood change and why?

4 What musical elements did you enjoy or find interesting? What feelings were you left with at the end of the fourth movement?

5 Were there parts of the work that you did not enjoy? Why or why not? Can you identify which music elements made you enjoy or not enjoy the music?

6 Different people often have different responses to the same music. Ask others who heard the same music about their response to Dvořák’s Sextet in A major.

7 Is there other music by Dvořák that you could listen to and compare to the sounds and experience of this Sextet? How does this work compare to the sounds and experience of listing to the Beethoven Octet in E flat major?