String Quartet No. 6 in A minor, Op. 12, B40

Opus number


Burghauser catalogue number


Date of composition

November 1873 – 5 December 1873 (revision: 1874 (?))

Premiere - date and place

9 October 1990, Prague

Premiere performer(s)

Kocian Quartet

First edition

Editio Supraphon, 1982, Prague

Main key

A minor

Parts / movements

1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Poco allegro
3. Poco adagio
4. Finale. Allegro molto


approx. 30 min.

composition history

The String Quartet No. 6 in A minor, written at the end of 1873, is important for the development of Dvořák’s composition work as the last and also the most audacious attempt to find synthesis within the classical four-movement form. The work originally essentially preserved the four-movement scheme, but without the customary division of individual parts, thus resulting in an uninterrupted stream of music. In this formal approach the composer sought to develop similar experiments he had undertaken in the past around the year 1869, a consequence of his fascination with the music of the German Neo-Romantics. All the parts of the quartet grew up from a single motif as the unifying element of the work. The composer was evidently dissatisfied with the result since he returned to the composition not long afterwards (perhaps the following year) and divided it up into four traditional independent movements. During this revision he left out entirely the slow segment superscribed Andante appassionato. The quartet as it survives today is unplayable as a complete work, since Dvořák destroyed some of the pages of the score. For the critical edition in 1982 these missing sections were reconstructed by leading Dvořák scholar Jarmil Burghauser. The quartet was was first performed in public in 1990.

general characteristics

From a macrostructural point of view, the work could be regarded as an unconvincing compromise between the original concept of the monothematic, one-movement composition, and the traditional four-movement scheme. In terms of thematic treatment, unlike the three “Wagnerian” quartets from the period 1869–1870, the Quartet in A minor betrays an increasing tendency towards the compositional traits that would be typical for Dvořák’s mature style: the periodic character of the thematic material, a sense of contrast, and a more prominent role for the individual voices. The first movement, whose complete notated version has not survived, is written in sonata form; its main subject might almost be described as Schubertian. The second movement corresponds to a kind of atypical scherzo, with a development section and variations in the middle part. The slow third movement assumes the three-part form A–B–A and, for its fragile lyricism, it might be seen as a more elaborate counterpart to the composer’s cycle Cypresses. Just before the end we will hear a brief yet distinct quotation of the main subject from the first movement. The final movement, with its essentially optimistic mood, is written in sonata form; this movement has also not survived in its entirety – its middle section (development) is missing.