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Nonet in F major, Op 31

'Spohr: Octet & Nonet' (CDA66699)
Spohr: Octet & Nonet
Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo: Allegro
Movement 3: Adagio
Movement 4: Finale: Vivace

Nonet in F major, Op 31
By winter Spohr was busy with the Nonet. ‘After completing Faust,’ the composer recalled, ‘I bethought myself of my obligation to Tost and asked him what he would like. He thought for a moment and decided for a nonette, made up of four strings plus flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, to be written in such a way that each instrument would appear in its true character. I was much attracted by the difficulty of the assignment and went right to work.’ Eventually the piece was in Tost’s hands. He had it copied out and invited Vienna’s best artists to his own house for a premiere under Spohr’s direction. At each later performance Tost would appear with the score and parts carried proprietorially beneath his arm. He set them on the stands himself and gathered them up delightedly after the performance. ‘He was as pleased by the applause as if he himself had been the composer,’ Spohr concluded.

The work was an unqualified success, played frequently that season and widely thereafter. An indication of its popularity was discovered en route to engagements in London over five years later, in 1819/20. Spohr and Dorette stopped in Gandersheim and presented concerts in Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig, Kassel and Lille. Here the Amateur Society was run by a Herr Vogel and on their arrival Madame Vogel, beside singing its theme, promptly enquired if she was addressing the composer of the Nonet. Spohr wrote, ‘When I responded in the affirmative she fell on my neck in a burst of Gallic impulsiveness and cried; “Oh! how pleased my husband will be … car il est fou de votre Nonetto”.’

Typically, Spohr’s inventive powers were fuelled by challenge and he makes conspicuous use of all nine ‘voices’; mindful of Tost’s requirement that the Nonet should emphasize individual characteristics of each instrument. Perhaps the work’s most persuasive, and undoubtedly unifying, feature is the four-note sequence that begins it. It is present in all movements except the felicitous D minor scherzo—a structure built around two trios, one of which involves the strings while the other combines winds and double bass. The four-note motif is most predominant in Spohr’s opening Allegro where it is established immediately and reappears in fugal form as the movement develops.

As the expressive Adagio unfolds, this germ-like feature is heard yet again and within both exposition and coda it reinforces the movement’s basic construction. Spohr’s buoyant Vivace brings one last, jocular allusion to the persistent motif with a second subject reference from the oboe. The entire work is skilfully crafted and to this day retains the interest and appeal it held for those first, enthusiastic Viennese audiences.

from notes by Howard Smith © 1994

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Details for CDA66699 track 4
Finale: Vivace
Recording date
17 November 1993
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Spohr: Octet & Nonet (CDA66699)
    Disc 1 Track 4
    Release date: April 1994
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