Another octet, but a rather different ensemble.
That a sixteen-year-old should be capable of producing a score of such brilliance is almost shocking, but then there are very few human beings who have demonstrated the prodigious talent of the young Mendelssohn.
Written in 1825 – two years before the death of Beethoven – Mendelssohn’s Op. 20 Octet represents the culmination of a series of string ‘symphonies’ (13 in all – the first composed when he was 12) written between 1821 and 1823. And, although the string octet was a rather unusual group at the time, given this in-depth experience of writing for string ensembles, it’s perhaps not surprising that the young composer should choose the eight players that he did (4 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos).
It’s difficult to think of another piece whose opening so accurately conjures up the joy and ebullience of youth; there follows an equally inspired slow movement, an ‘elfin’ scherzo and a presto finale full of contrapuntal bustle and energy. The scherzo in particular, prefiguring as it does the elfin world of the Op. 21 Midsummer Night’s Dream music, proved particularly popular; so much so that the composer rewrote it as a substitute third movement for his first full orchestral symphony (in c, Op. 11).