Sat 28 November
Leeds Town Hall
Leeds International Orchestral Season 2020/21
Schubert - Octet Listen
Programme duration approximately 70 mins. Please note there will be no interval.
Programmes Notes - Please feel free to use your own device to view the programme notes during the concert.
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Octet in F major, D 803
Adagio – Allegro
Allegro vivace - Trio
Theme and variations (Andante)
Andante molto – Allegro – Andante molto – Allegro molto
In March 1824 Schubert wrote to a friend: “… I have tried my hand at several instrumental works. I wrote two quartets … and an Octet … in fact I intend to pave my way towards a grand symphony in this manner.” The Octet, completed on 1 March that year, is widely believed to have been the result of a commission from Count Ferdinand Troyer. Apparently, Troyer, a member of Archduke Rudolf’s court, asked Schubert to model the work on Beethoven’s Septet of 1800, a work which had achieved phenomenal popularity. However, the octet follows the septet's model only in the number and general plan of the movements and the divertimento/serenade style - i.e. tuneful, relaxed and entertaining, rather than intellectually demanding. Schubert’s actual musical material – his themes and subsequent treatment of them – owes practically nothing to Beethoven’s example. Furthermore, the octet is a more substantial piece, in which Schubert “paved the way” for his equally extended “grand symphony” mentioned in the above quotation – i.e. the Ninth Symphony (the “Great C major”), completed little more than a year later.
The Adagio introduction, rather orchestral in texture, leads to an Allegro in which the first theme contains the little dotted rhythm already established. Indeed, this rhythm becomes something of an obsession, appearing in many themes throughout the work. There are few bars in this entire first movement from which it is completely absent. The allusion to the Adagio introduction just before the recapitulation is an unexpected touch in what is a characteristically engaging movement – sunny in character, yet often robust in its rhythmic drive.
The lyrical and expansive Adagio begins with a long clarinet solo, paying tribute to Count Troyer’s own ability on this instrument. Following a typically poetic modulation, the second theme appears in the key of G flat. The prevailing serenity of this movement is rarely disturbed, until a strange passage near the end reminds us of Schubert’s tendency to juxtapose blissful beauty with dark visions of futility or desolation. There follows an exuberant and earthy scherzo with a contrastingly relaxed trio section, in which rhythmic momentum is sustained by the cello’s perpetual staccato crotchets.
For the theme of the variation movement Schubert salvaged a melody from his youthful opera The Friends from Salamanca. Written in 1815, this opera was never performed, but at least Schubert rescued this melody from obscurity. This kind of simple, “tuneful” melody does not lend itself to the type of variation technique in which the composer drastically transforms the theme beyond recognition. Accordingly Schubert relies on decoration and colourful, beguiling instrumentation, with the first violin bearing the brunt of the technical demands. However, in Variation 5 in C minor Schubert does introduce a change of character - shadowy and rather disturbing. Following the slightly faster tempo for Variation 7, the final varied reminiscence of the theme returns to Più lento.
Following a charming and graceful Minuet, the severe F minor introduction to the Finale is a surprising departure from the serenade character of the work, with the strings’ tremolando and crescendos creating a dramatic atmosphere. The ensuing Allegro, like the first movement, combines a generally amiable spirit with rhythmic robustness, but its progress is rudely interrupted before the recapitulation. At the equivalent point in his Septet Beethoven had inserted an interruption in the form of a violin cadenza, whereas Schubert dramatically recalls part of the Andante molto introduction, before resuming at a faster tempo (Allegro molto) for the bustling coda.
© Philip Borg-Wheeler 2011
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