Hyperion Records

Octet in E major, Op 32
composer

Recordings
'Spohr: Octet & Nonet' (CDA66699)
Spohr: Octet & Nonet
Details
Movement 1: Adagio – Allegro
Movement 2: Menuetto: Allegro
Movement 3: Andante con Variazioni
Movement 4: Finale: Allegretto

Octet in E major, Op 32
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When Tost planned a business trip to England he prevailed upon Spohr to incorporate a theme from Handel (The Harmonious Blacksmith) in his new Octet. This would find a glad response among English audiences, the benefactor reasoned. The Octet became a pivotal work of Spohr’s final days in Vienna. Scored for clarinet, two horns, violin, two violas, cello and bass, the work was reportedly inspired by the artistry of Theater an der Wien players Joseph Friedlowsky (clarinet) and Michael Herbst (horn). Long beforehand, Boccherini has brought increased sonority to a group of string quintets, using two violas. Spohr went a step further with just one violin revelling in the spotlight while his violas mirrored the timbre of brass and winds.

There is little in the first movement resembling construction processes found in the Nonet. It begins with an Adagio with the first bar announcing components (albeit back to front) found in the first ‘a tempo’ Allegro theme. Reference to the second subject is found in final moments of the introduction. Surprisingly, Spohr’s Adagio reappears, now allegro, after a brief segment of development. From here listeners are carried swiftly forward to the principal second subject.

The Menuetto is in the scherzo style. It has pronounced syncopation and a chromatic character; the Spohr imprint which later prompted Beethoven’s dismissive and sole recorded comment on his colleague’s music—‘It is too rich in dissonances; pleasure in his music is marred by his chromatic melody’, he grumbled. By now thge two composers were on divergent courses, finding little to admire in one another’s music.

Handel’s Harmonious Blacksmith is introduced as the ‘Andante con variazoni’ theme. Here again interest is upheld through Spohr’s inexhaustible invention, a trait which performers warmed to, for it captivated both instrumentalists and audiences alike. Once again Schubert may readily spring to mind yet the movement retains much which typifies Spohr’s affirmative gifts, and his alone.

A breath of country air seems to permeate the rondo-style Finale. It is joyous, undemanding, meticulously crafted, and throughout its length remains in keeping with the work as a whole.

from notes by Howard Smith © 1994

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