Good artists copy, great artists steal!

Schubert’s Octet dates from 1824, it was commissioned by the clarinettist Ferdinand Troyer as – so the story goes – a companion work to Beethoven’s (then) extremely popular Septet (still is!). Apart from adding a second violin to make the numbers up to eight, Schubert seems to have used the Beethoven piece as the template for his own work. The similarities are legion: same number of movements, same formal structures – slow introduction (18 bars long in both cases), sonata form first movement, lyrical adagio, scherzo, theme and variations, minuet and finale with slow introduction (though Schubert does swap the order of the minuet and scherzo) – even the key relationships between movements are similar!

And yet the Schubert is no slavish imitation but a very great piece of music in its own right. Just compare the similarities and differences in the opening of the two slow movements:

Beethoven

septet

Beethoven: Septet, Wiener Oktett, Decca

Schubert

octet

Schubert: Octet, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Ensemble, Chandos

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