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Name of Work

Spohr, Louis (1784-1859)
Octet in E Major for clarinet, two horns, violin, two violas, cello, double bass

Movements:
Adagio - Allegro
Menuetto: Allegro
Andante con variazioni (Tema di Handel)
Finale: Allegretto

Performances:


Nov 05, 2006



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Gail Williams, Horn
William Barnewitz, Horn
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Roger Chase, Viola
Marina Hoover, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass


Nov 06, 2006



Larry Combs, Clarinet
Gail Williams, Horn
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Roger Chase, Viola
Marina Hoover, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass
William Barnewitz, Horn

SPOHR-Octet for Clarinet, Two Horns, Violin, Two Violas, Cello and Double Bass in E Major, Op. 32

Composed in 1814.
Premiered in 1814 in Vienna.

BACKGROUND
Louis Spohr, one of the 19th century’s foremost musicians, is now all but forgotten. He was renowned in his day as a violinist, teacher, composer and conductor (one of the first to stand in front of an orchestra and threaten the musicians with a baton), and he performed in all these capacities throughout northern and central Europe during nearly two decades of touring interrupted by important posts in Gotha, Vienna, Frankfurt and Dresden. Spohr wrote a delightful autobiography in 1838 enlivened with the sights, people and events of his interesting life, in which he described the unusual background to his Octet of 1814, composed a year after he had settled in Vienna as conductor at the Theater-an-der-Wien:

Word had hardly gotten around Vienna that I was to move there when, one morning, a distinguished visitor presented himself: a Herr Johann von Tost, manufacturer and passionate music lover. He began a hymn of praise about my talent as a composer, and expressed the wish that, for a suitable emolument, everything that I should write in Vienna be reckoned as his property for a period of three years. Then he added, “Your works may be performed as often as possible, but the score must be borrowed from me for each occasion and performed only in my presence.” I was to think it over and myself determine the fee for each form of composition. With this he presented his card and took his leave.

I attempted in vain to fathom the motive of this proposal, and I finally decided to question him directly. First, however, I made some inquiries about him, and determined that he was a rich man and a great lover of music who never missed a public concert. This was reassuring, and I decided to accept his proposal. As fee, I set 30 ducats for a quartet, 35 for a quintet and so forth. When I asked him just what he proposed to do with my works, he was reluctant to answer, but finally said, “I have two objectives. First, I want to be invited to the musicales where your pieces will be played, and therefore I must have them in my possession. Secondly, I hope that on my business trips the possession of such treasures will bring me the acquaintanceship of music lovers who, in turn, may be useful to me in my business.” While all this did not make much sense to me, I found it most pleasantly flattering, and I had no further reservations. Tost accepted the fees that I had set, and further agreed to pay upon delivery. The appropriate documents were drawn up and signed accordingly.

The composer went on to describe how the wealthy Tost, who had played violin in Haydn’s orchestra at Esterháza before using his wife’s fortune to set himself up as a successful cloth merchant in Vienna, helped the Spohr family settle into new quarters in Vienna, even selecting and purchasing furnishings. “Thus we found ourselves in possession of an elegant and tasteful establishment, which no other artist family in the city could match,” bragged Spohr. He was able to present his benefactor with two string quartets in short order (he needed the money to pay his moving expenses), which he followed later in 1813 with a nonet for strings and winds and the Octet for Clarinet, Two Horns, Violin, Two Violas, Cello and Double Bass a few months thereafter. “I played the Octet very frequently,” Spohr continued, “in which besides myself the clarinetist Joseph Friedlowsky and the hornist Michael Herbst [players in Spohr’s orchestra at the Theater-an-der-Wien], and another whose name I now forget, found special opportunity to distinguish themselves.”

MUSIC
The Octet, with its unusual but richly sonorous ensemble, has an almost orchestral range of tone colors. A slow introduction, somber but brief, previews both of the opening movement’s important themes: a wide-interval but smooth motive and a dotted-rhythm, neighboring-tone figure. The tonality brightens for the main theme, which is introduced by the horn and echoed by clarinet and violin. The violin is assigned some brilliant passagework in the transition to the subsidiary subject (Spohr did not deny himself the chance to show off his gifts as a performer in this composition), in which the dotted-rhythm figure is given melodic interest. The development section is not long but includes references to all of the thematic materials. A full recapitulation and a coda built on the main theme round out the movement. Though Spohr called the second movement Menuetto, this is really a scherzo, with a wistful, elfin quality familiar from similar pieces by Felix Mendelssohn (who turned five in Berlin in 1814, the year of this Octet); the mellow central trio is led by the horns. The work’s third movement is a set of variations on the well-known theme from Hande’s Harpsichord Suite No. 5 in E Major, popularly known as the Harmonious Blacksmith. “According to the wish of Herr von Tost, who was then contemplating a journey to England,” Spohr explained, “I took up a theme from Handel, varied and carried it out thematically, as he was of the opinion that it would on that account excite great interest in that country.” The movement works upon Handel’s procession-like theme with six variations that allow both variety of mood and virtuosity of execution. The finale is a spacious rondo built on a genial melody of folkish character.

Program Notes written by Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Performance date: November 5 & 6, 2006



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