Commissioned by The Miller Theatre at Columbia University, Sextet was written for David Krakauer, who gave the premiere with Alan Feinberg, piano, and the Flux Quartet, at the Miller Theatre on February 24, 2001. It has been recorded by Music from Copland House on “Chamber Music of John Musto,” Koch International Classics CD 7690. The text below is adapted from liner notes for the CD by Michael Boriskin:
John Musto’s chamber music inhabits a vibrant urban landscape animated by a brash energy, nocturnal poetry, and stylish, sophisticated allure. In this edgy, eclectic universe, a wailing klezmer tune may easily evolve into a proper, well-ordered fugue, and a yearning, expressionist soliloquy may be turned inside out to reveal a sultry cabaret melody. The raucous sounds of the street co-exist naturally with the meticulous teachings of the conservatory.
The lyric and narrative gifts widely appreciated in Musto’s vocal music also inform his instrumental works. Regardless of how fast-paced the events or multi-layered the textures, he has an abiding sense of both gestural sweep and the intelligibility of the moment. His chamber works often seem like lively, literate conversations by a diverse cast of colorful, engaging characters.
The spirited first movement of the Sextet is launched by its initial four notes in the strings, and is highly contrapuntal in its argument. Its crisp, nervous energy relents somewhat near its midpoint for a quirky round derived from the opening music, but quickly returns to revisit much of the main material.
The languid second movement is a set of variations on a theme deftly interwoven among the four strings, using a hocketing technique, which, in this instance, disperses notes of a melody among several instruments. Each successive take on the theme introduces a new and more intricate layer of embroidery before quickly coming to rest on a lone note in the clarinet.
The playful tune running through the animated final movement is an old Jewish folk song, “Shoemaker's Wives” (Shusters Vaybet):
Shoemaker's wives say
They can't make threads:
Better to take a tailor as a husband
And get into new things.