Skip to main content
Chamber Music

Mendelssohn Octet in E flat major, Op.20

By January 16, 2022No Comments

I have already published this piece under the Dutch violinist Janine Jansen.  I am posting this same piece again because of the quality, one could say the legendary stature, of the musicians.  This is a wonderful recording of the octet with very famous instrumentalists.  I hope that you can take the time to list to the whole thing.

Mendelssohn: Octet in E Flat Major Op 20
Jascha Heifetz, Israel Baker, Arnold Belnick, Joseph Stepansky, violins
William Primrose, Virginia Majewski, violas
Gregor Piatigorsky, Gabor Rejto, cellos
August 24 & 25, 1961; RCA Studios, Hollywood

Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and his Octet

Felix Mendelssohn (1809–47), perhaps the most extraordinary composer–prodigy in the history of music, was just midway between his sixteenth and seventeenth birthdays when he composed this piece. He wrote it as a birthday gift for his friend and violin teacher, Eduard Rietz, and the florid first-violin part stands a compliment to that musician’s abilities. Rietz had been the concertmaster of the Berlin Court Orchestra in 1819, and that was the position he held when Mendelssohn wrote for him his rarely played D minor Violin Concerto (not to be confused with the later, more famous E minor Concerto). Rietz was on the way to becoming an accomplished conductor, too, when he was swept away by tuberculosis in 1832, a few months after his twenty-ninth birthday. It was Franz Liszt who broke the news to Mendelssohn.

The string octet was in no way a classic chamber music genre. Louis Spohr had produced the first of his four “double quartets” in 1823, but despite their identical combination of instruments they hew to a fundamentally different concept from Mendelssohn’s. Where Spohr’s two string quartets operate as independent units, Mendelssohn uses his eight instruments as a single ensemble capable of any interactive permutations. In this regard, Mendelssohn’s Octet is quite closely related to the dozen string symphonies he had been composing during the preceding years, a connection underscored by the composer’s instruction on the published score: “This Octet must be played by all the instruments in symphonic orchestral style. Pianos and fortes must be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual in pieces of this character.” He would later arrange the Octet’s Scherzo as an orchestral piece with wind parts so that it might be used as an alternative movement in his C minor Symphony.