AN 2 8799 Octuor Schubert Solistes OSM

Schubert: Octet in F major, D. 803

They spoke about it

Album information

For the OSM Chamber Soloists, recording Franz Schubert’s Octet in F major, D. 803, was the logical next step after Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major, Op. 20. Indeed, many have remarked on the similarities between the two works, composed 25 years apart. Both use similar forces, with Schubert merely adding a second violin to Beethoven’s ensemble of violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon, and horn; both have six movements connected by identical key relationships; and both feature a generally optimistic character. Given these resemblances and the Septet’s renown in early 19th-century Vienna – a popularity that even Beethoven himself found irritating – some musicologists have mused that Beethoven’s model was imposed upon Schubert by Count Ferdinand Troyer, a clarinettist who commissioned the work in February 1824.

In early 1824, Franz Schubert’s world began to change. The death of Ignaz Sonnleithner’s wife – in whose home many of the young composer’s works were premiered for a select group of music lovers – marked the end of a concert series that had started in 1816. Many of Schubert’s friends were leaving Vienna, either temporarily or for good, and (as Schubert wrote to his friend Schober) their younger replacements in Schubert’s reading circle were more interested in talking about “riding and fencing, and horses and dogs” than in literary themes, outnumbering those with more artistic sensibilities. In this rather solitary period, Schubert lost himself in work. As noted by the young artist Moritz von Schwind, an acquaintance of Schubert’s since 1821 whose friendship became closer during this time, “Schubert has for a time been working on an octet with the greatest enthusiasm. If you go and see him during the day he says ‘Hello. How are you? Well?’ and carries on writing, whereupon you leave.” And indeed, it would appear that the Octet was composed quite quickly, since it had been completed by March 1.

Like Beethoven’s work, the first movement of Schubert’s Octet opens with a slow introduction. The subsequent “Allegro,“ with its insistent “dotted-eighth sixteenth” rhythm and the major role for the first violin, introduces elements that endure throughout the work. The start of the second movement, an adagio in B-flat major, foreshadows “Ellens Gesang III” (generally known as “Schubert’s Ave Maria” today), with the melody in the clarinet unfolding over an accompaniment of sixteenth-note sextuplet arpeggios. The third movement, marked “Allegro vivace,” is a scherzo featuring an incisive dotted rhythm that, in the “Trio,“ gives way to a more chromatic legato theme with a continuo-like counterpoint in the cello. For the theme and variations of the fourth movement, Schubert reuses a duet written nine years earlier from his opera Die Freunde von Salamanka, D. 326 (never performed during his lifetime), itself very similar to the theme from the second movement of his Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, D. 125 (1814 – 1815). One of the high points of this movement occurs in the striking contrast between the dramatic fifth variation in C minor, with its relentless thirty-second notes in the second violin and viola, and the ethereal atmosphere of the sixth variation created by the use of the upper register and the key of A-flat major. After a sensible “Menuetto“ built on a melodic and rhythmic structure reminiscent of the first movement, Schubert unexpectedly opens the sixth movement with a disturbing introduction in F minor, full of volatile dynamic changes and tremolos in the cello. The “Allegro“ arrives like a contained state of joy, played discretely at first in the strings alone, then joined by the winds in a second, more exuberant statement of the theme. The agility of the first violin and clarinet are subsequently highlighted in the capricious second theme, where the two instruments exchange a quick triplet motif. A nod to the introduction, in which ascending figures in the violin soften the tension created earlier, precedes a glorious and constantly accelerating finale.

© Florence Brassard
English Translation: Peter Christensen

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Les Solistes de l’OSM / OSM Chamber Soloists
Andrew Wan
AN 7 8799 Octuor Schubert Solistes OSM

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