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String Octet in E Major Op. 20

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)

Benyounes Quartet (photo credit: Olwen Holland)

Benyounes Quartet (photo credit: Olwen Holland)

Composer
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Composition Year
1825
Work Movements
1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
2. Andante
3. Scherzo: Allegro lerggierissimo
4. Presto
Artists
Benyounes Quartet (Paolo Andreoli,Emily Holland [violins], Sara Roberts [viola}, Kim Vaughan [cello]), Cremona Quartet (Cristiano Gualco, Paolo Andreoli [violins] Simone Gramalgia [viola] Giovanni Scaglione [cello])

Programme Note Writer:
© Francis Humphrys

By the time Mendelssohn came to write the Octet at the advanced age of 16, he had already composed five operas, the thirteen string symphonies, three piano quartets, a string quartet, a piano sextet and a handful of trios and sonatas. Goethe was a family friend and he knew Weber, Moscheles, Hummel, Cherubini, Rossini, Meyerbeer and Spontini. Already the preious year his teacher, Carl Zelter, had pronounced him no longer an apprentice but an independent member of the brotherhood of musicians.

The massive first movement is built on a symphonic scale with the form shifting between violin concerto and a straightforward string ensemble. The movement is dominated by the all-pervasive opening theme played by the first violin over a shimmering accompaniment in the other strings. Subsidiary ideas include a question and answer pair of phrases and there is a striding rhythmic figure which is particularly effective in its pizzicato form, and when treated contrapuntally with a window-shaking bass line.

The enormous development section is seriously infected by the opening figure but eventually a long crescendo builds out of the rhythmic pizzicato culminating in tutti chords that fade into an impressively controlled piano. This leads to a hurtling climax that rockets into the recapitulation, which in turn is full of contrapuntal fireworks. The coda allows a final ecstatic rendering of the main theme.

The Andante continues to explore the exciting sonorities offered by this combination of instruments. It is clear from both these movements that Mendelssohn both worshipped Mozart and emulated him. The colouring is less orchestral than in the first movement and is beautifully graded, but without any striking melody.

The Scherzo is best described by his sister Fanny: The whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo, the tremulandos coming in now and then, the trills passing away with the quickness of lighting; everything new and strange, and at the same time most insinuating and pleasing, one feels so near the world of spirits carried away in the air... At the end the first violin takes a flight with feather-like lightness, and... all has vanished.


The finale is introduced in a most undignified manner by the second cello, letting the cork out of the champagne, and the resulting effervescent presto exploits the flamboyant possibilities of the eight parts to the full. There are even two quick quotes of the Scherzo Walpurgisnacht theme among the helter-skelter, before the sixteen year old composer builds to a barn-storming finish

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String Octet in E Major Op. 20

Composer: Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Performance date: Monday 29th June 2015
Venue: St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland

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Composer Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (b. 1809 - d. 1847)
Work Title String Octet in E Major Op. 20
Composition Year 1825
Work Movements 1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
2. Andante
3. Scherzo: Allegro lerggierissimo
4. Presto
Artist(s) Benyounes Quartet (Paolo Andreoli,Emily Holland [violins], Sara Roberts [viola}, Kim Vaughan [cello]), Cremona Quartet (Cristiano Gualco, Paolo Andreoli [violins] Simone Gramalgia [viola] Giovanni Scaglione [cello])
Performance Date Monday 29th June 2015
Performance Venue St. Brendan's Church, Bantry, Co Cork, Ireland
Event Main Evening Concert
Duration 00:32:06
Recording Engineer Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Instrumentation Category String Octet
Instrumentation 4vn, 2va, 2vc
Programme Note Writer © Francis Humphrys

By the time Mendelssohn came to write the Octet at the advanced age of 16, he had already composed five operas, the thirteen string symphonies, three piano quartets, a string quartet, a piano sextet and a handful of trios and sonatas. Goethe was a family friend and he knew Weber, Moscheles, Hummel, Cherubini, Rossini, Meyerbeer and Spontini. Already the preious year his teacher, Carl Zelter, had pronounced him no longer an apprentice but an independent member of the brotherhood of musicians.

The massive first movement is built on a symphonic scale with the form shifting between violin concerto and a straightforward string ensemble. The movement is dominated by the all-pervasive opening theme played by the first violin over a shimmering accompaniment in the other strings. Subsidiary ideas include a question and answer pair of phrases and there is a striding rhythmic figure which is particularly effective in its pizzicato form, and when treated contrapuntally with a window-shaking bass line.

The enormous development section is seriously infected by the opening figure but eventually a long crescendo builds out of the rhythmic pizzicato culminating in tutti chords that fade into an impressively controlled piano. This leads to a hurtling climax that rockets into the recapitulation, which in turn is full of contrapuntal fireworks. The coda allows a final ecstatic rendering of the main theme.

The Andante continues to explore the exciting sonorities offered by this combination of instruments. It is clear from both these movements that Mendelssohn both worshipped Mozart and emulated him. The colouring is less orchestral than in the first movement and is beautifully graded, but without any striking melody.

The Scherzo is best described by his sister Fanny: The whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo, the tremulandos coming in now and then, the trills passing away with the quickness of lighting; everything new and strange, and at the same time most insinuating and pleasing, one feels so near the world of spirits carried away in the air... At the end the first violin takes a flight with feather-like lightness, and... all has vanished.


The finale is introduced in a most undignified manner by the second cello, letting the cork out of the champagne, and the resulting effervescent presto exploits the flamboyant possibilities of the eight parts to the full. There are even two quick quotes of the Scherzo Walpurgisnacht theme among the helter-skelter, before the sixteen year old composer builds to a barn-storming finish