If he hadn’t turned composer, Johannes Brahms might have made an excellent travel agent. He was in the habit of spending his summer vacations working on his music, and liked to be someplace where the creative juices could flow. Consequently, Brahms was always on the lookout for scenic spots and comfortable rooms at a decent price.
In the summer of 1865, Brahms rented rooms from a certain Widow Becker in Lichtental near Baden-Baden. The rooms offered a wonderful view of a mountain hillside covered with fir trees—and the rent was irresistibly low. “I came, I saw, I rented,” wrote Brahms to a friend, and returned several summers in a row.
Brahms composed his String Sextet No. 2 there, between jolts of bracing coffee in the morning and afternoon hikes up the aforementioned hillside. Not surprisingly, this Sextet turned out to be one of his happiest and most genial chamber works.
Unfortunately, on today’s date in 1867 at the Sextet’s premiere public performance in Vienna, the critic of the Wiener Zeitung heard desert sands rather than shady forests, and wrote: “We are always seized with a kind of oppression when this new John in the Wilderness, Herr Johannes Brahms, announces himself. This prophet makes us quite disconsolate with his impalpable, vertiginous tone-vexations, pleasing neither body nor soul, products of the most desperate effort.”