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Septet in A Minor Op.147

Louis Spohr: Septet in A minor Op.147

Spohr's Selbstbiographie only covers his life up to 1838, but after his death his second wife (Marianne Pfeiffer, a pianist, whom he married in 1836) placed his notes, letters and diaries at the disposal of various members of his family, who completed a record of his life over the remaining eleven years. It is from this that we learn that the Septet in A minor Op.147 also originated during the course of a visit to England - his sixth and last - in the summer of 1853. 'On the return journey (to Kassel, in the autumn) he was much preoccupied with an idea he had conceived in England of a new work for the piano with instrumental accompaniment, and on which he enthusiastically started work as soon as he reached home. Thus was produced, in the seventieth year of his life, one of his finest masterpieces, bewitching harmony and beautiful modulations. The Septet was performed from manuscript at a subscription concert in Kassel, at which the demanding piano part was played by Jean Joseph Bott, who, earlier in the evening had been the soloist in Spohr's fifteenth Violin Concerto!

The first movement of the Septet begins in a serious, almost Brahmsian mood, but, as in the Quintet, there is a warm, and later almost jocular, second subject in C major, and when this returns in the recapitulation the key changes to A major, in which it remains until the end of the movement. If the first movement occasionally suggests Brahms, the much admired Larghetto (in F major) plays almost overt tribute to Schubert's Octet: the horn takes the lead at the outset, and the violin is prominent in the more agitated central episode (in D minor), to which reference is made in the coda. The third movement is a somewhat capricious, whimsical Scherzo, which encloses two Trios: the first (A major) virtually a solo for the clarinet, this time highly reminiscent of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet; the second (in F major) featuring the horn. The movement ends with a shortened reprise of the Scherzo. As in the Quintet, the sonata-form finale follows to a large extent the pattern of the first movement, with a second subject in the relative major in exposition and in the tonic major in the recapitulation, but the overall mood is better integrated: at nearly seventy, Spohr's touch was still as sure as ever.

Robin Golding

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