Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Nationality: German
Born: February 3, 1809, Hamburg Died: November 4, 1847, Leipzig (age 38)

Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20

(for 4 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos)
14:06 I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
7:10 II. Andante
4:31 III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
6:13 IV. Presto
Duration: 33 minutes (approximately)
Composed: 1825, Summer and fall. Completed October 15, 1825. (age 16)
Premiere: January 30, 1836. Leipzig Gewandhaus. First public performance.
Published: 1832 (age 22-23)
Revised: 1832 (age 22-23)
Dedication: Eduard Rietz [Mendelssohn's violin teacher]
8 recordings, 23 videos
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33:17
Jasper Quartet, Jupiter Quartet
14:23
Guarneri String Quartet, Orion String Quartet
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
6:56
Guarneri String Quartet, Orion String Quartet
II. Andante
4:34
Guarneri String Quartet, Orion String Quartet
III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
6:07
Guarneri String Quartet, Orion String Quartet
IV. Presto
8:35
Zagreb Festival
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (part 1)
5:10
Zagreb Festival
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (part 2)
6:48
Zagreb Festival
II. Andante
4:24
Zagreb Festival
III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
7:29
Zagreb Festival
IV. Presto
35:37
Prazak Quartet / Zemlinsky Quartet
27:30
Heifetz, et. al.
13:50
Ehnes, Ashkenazy, et. al.
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
6:32
Ehnes, Ashkenazy, et. al.
II. Andante
4:30
Ehnes, Ashkenazy, et. al.
III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
5:54
Ehnes, Ashkenazy, et. al.
IV. Presto
13:58
Concertante Chamber Players
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
6:50
Concertante Chamber Players
II. Andante
4:29
Concertante Chamber Players
III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
5:55
Concertante Chamber Players
IV. Presto
7:14
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
II. Andante
4:30
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
III. Scherzo. Allegro leggierisimo
6:22
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
IV. Presto
From Kai Christiansen

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Octet in E-flat Major, Op. 20 (1825, revised in 1832)

Felix MendelssohnMendelssohn composed his glorious Octet for strings in 1825 when he was merely 16 years old. Today, it is regarded as a first-rate masterwork on par with those of the finest mature composers of any age granting Mendelssohn the reputation of the greatest prodigy in Western musical history. What is more, Mendelssohn had no specific models from distinguished predecessors as a basis: his Octet is the first of its kind and has arguably never been surpassed. Conrad Wilson summarizes, "Its youthful verve, brilliance and perfection make it one of the miracles of nineteenth-century music." Recent research by Nicolas Kitchen of the Borromeo Quartet reveals that a more mature Mendelssohn somewhat substantially edited the score before its final publication in 1832. Mendelssohn dedicated the Octet to his violin teacher Eduard Rietz and the first violin part is virtuosic throughout.

The Octet is a full-scale four-movement work in the classical style. The opening movement is a sprawling sonata complete with contrasting themes, development, recapitulation and coda, over twice as long as any of the subsequent movements. The second movement Andante is a poignant, melancholy slow movement exploiting a myriad of suave and ever changing textural possibilities. The third movement offers a stunning first example of Mendelssohn's distinctive scherzi featuring quicksilver agility with a soft dynamic evoking the time-honored suggestion of woodland fairies. As his sister Fanny would write, "The whole piece is to be played staccato and pianissimo with shivering tremolos and lightening flashes of trills. All is new, strange and yet so familiar and pleasing – one feels close to the world of spirits lightly carried up into the air." The finale launches into swift perpetual motion with an eight-part fugue working through the entire ensemble from bottom to top followed by a theme that reminds many listeners of Handel's Messiah. The entire Octet is a miracle of scoring using just about every imaginable permutation of voices provided by the eight string players. Such mastery derives from the numerous string symphonies Mendelssohn wrote between the ages of 12 and 14 with one particularly vivid precursor in the String Symphony No. 8 in D major.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Related Composers

Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel (1805-1847)
sister
Nationality: German
Born: November 14, 1805, Hamburg Died: May 14, 1847, Berlin (age 41)
Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897)
colleague
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Born: October 3, 1828, Berlin Died: February 23, 1897, Berlin (age 68)
Johann Hummel (1778-1837)
Teacher
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Heinrich Marschner (1795-1861)
Friend/Colleague
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Born: August 16, 1795, Zittau Died: December 14, 1861, Hanover (age 66)