Schubert’s Octet was commissioned by Count Ferdinand Troyer, chief steward to one of Beethoven’s most illustrious pupils, the Archduke Rudolph.
Troyer was a keen amateur clarinetist and, following the phenomenal success of the Septet of Beethoven, asked Schubert to compose a companion piece for a similar ensemble. In fulfilling the Count’s request Schubert made only two alterations to the Beethovenian model – he added an extra violin to the personnel and reversed the two dances (movements 3 & 5) so that the faster, scherzo came first.
Other than these minor changes, Schubert fulfilled this commission brilliantly; and, like the Beethoven, the Octet is a generally easygoing work. But, as in much late Schubert, there are darker moments: for instance, in the introduction to the final movement the composer quotes from his Schiller setting, Die Götter Griechenlands [The Gods of Greece] (a song he also quoted in his a-minor ‘ Rosamunde’ quartet written in the same year (1824) as the Octet). The song – you can see the text below – speaks of a lost paradise, a subject that must have been close to the heart of the troubled, ailing composer.
Die Götter Griechenlands
Friedrich von Schiller
The Gods of Greece
Schöne Welt, wo bist du? Kehre wieder
Holdes Blütenalter der Natur!
Ach, nur in dem Feenland der Lieder
Lebt noch deine fabelhafte Spur.
Ausgestorben trauert das Gefilde,
Keine Gottheit zeigt sich meinem Blick,
Ach, von jenem lebenwarmen
Bilde Blieb der Schatten nur zurück.
Fair world, where are you? Return again,
sweet springtime of nature!
Alas, only in the magic land of
does your fabled memory live on.
The deserted fields mourn,
no god reveals himself
of that warm, living image
only a shadow has remained.
Translation © Richard Wigmore, author of
Schubert: The Complete Song Texts,
published by Schirmer Books,
0:00 Adagio – Allegro – Più allegro
27:37 Allegro vivace – Trio – Allegro vivace
34:29 Andante – variations. Un poco più mosso – Più lento
46:01 Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio – Menuetto – Coda
52:51 Andante molto – Allegro – Andante molto – Allegro molto