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Felix Mendelssohn's String Octet, op. 20
Composed, incredibly, when Mendelssohn (1809–1847) was just 16, the Octet for Strings, op. 20, is the first of the composer's mature compositions. Written in 1825 for the 23rd birthday of a family friend, Eduard Rietz, the Octet bears the hallmarks of genius. Mendelssohn approached the form with total freshness and ingenuity, making full use of the resources at his disposal, to the extent that his octet is the defining example of the genre.
The opening movement is lyrical in conception, its themes arching from the depths to soar above the texture. The marking con fuoco (with fire) suggests the importance of rhythmic energy in defining Mendelssohn's approach to the form. The graceful Andante that follows is a sensitive and melancholic set of variations, based on a folk-like theme.
The complexities of the part-writing, evident in the playful Scherzo and the following Presto, are particularly striking. The Presto itself is a whirlwind moto perpetuo that races along to a thrilling conclusion.
In this one piece, Mendelssohn seems to display the major characteristics of his compositional style fully formed. That the Octet is also immediately attractive and one of the most popular pieces of chamber music is an added bonus!
This piece is performed by Ensemble Instrumental de France (EIF).
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