Françaix’s octet A huit
dates from 1972. Inscribed by the composer ‘To the revered memory of Franz Schubert’, and written for the same instrumental combination as Schubert’s Octet, Françaix’s score was commissioned by the Vienna Octet, who gave the first performance in Vienna on 7 November 1972. Françaix claimed, self-deprecatingly, that this work was asked for as the ensemble ‘needed a stop-gap to fill its programme’, but the result is one of the composer’s most organically subtle scores. The first movement opens with a slow introduction, given over to an evenly-measured theme that is passed between the three wind instruments and gradually builds to a climax before a perky scherzando idea, Allegrissimo, with soft pizzicato accompaniment, is upon us. This has a blues inflexion and is derived from the opening slow theme. It is first heard on the clarinet and in turn leads to a new theme on the horn; both themes are now developed in sequence—by bassoon and strings, strings alone, clarinet and strings, horn and strings, and so on—occasionally with lively counterpoint before the slower coda reminiscenza arrives. The urbane, not to say urban, Scherzo is fleet and delicately scored throughout, and the Andante slow movement has a splendidly relaxed and flowing air which never fades and which occasionally glimpses more troubled vistas. For all its charm and character, this music is never trivial, and in the endearing finale Françaix opens with a tutti call to action before sliding into a delicious waltz (leading to a late-evening liaison perhaps?) which surrounds various contrasting episodes before the splendid final coda.
from notes by Robert Matthew-Walker © 1998