Concert 3: Only the Good Die Young

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Mozart was only 35 when he died at his home in Vienna; Schubert was 31. The forgotten Belgian Guillaume Lekeu was 24. This is a program of music by geniuses who lives were cut short.

Few works in the chamber music repertoire reach the eschelon of Schubert’s F major Octet. It stands at the other end of the spectrum from Mendelssohn’s Octet being, at once, a masterpiece, but in the final years of life rather than as a work of teenage ambition.

While Schubert’s Octet often stands alone on programs, our final concert of the 2024 season pairs it with a vivacious work by a young Mozart and an incomplete piano quartet by the forgotten Guillaume Lekeu.

Program

program for this concert with a few facts

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
flute Quartet in D Major, K. 285 (1777)

Written for a wealthy amateur Dutch flutist, Ferdinand de Jean who made his fortune with the East India Trading Company. It seemed to be part of a series of commissions that included three concertos and a couple of quartets. Mozart could not finish the entirety of the project, claiming to his father he could never find enough quiet moments and complaining that he wasn’t always in the mood to write for the flute. One would never know this by the quality of what he wrote for the instrument during his lifetime that he had such issues with the instrument.

Guillaume Lekeu (1870-1894)
Piano Quartet (1893)

Lekeu was born in the village of Heusy in Belgium and began his musical studies at a conservatory nearby. In 1888, his family moved to Paris, and he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he first studied with César Franck, followed by Vincent D’Indy. This incomplete piano quartet was commissioned by the famous Belgian violinist Eugène Ysaÿe. It was left incomplete and remains alongside one string quartet and a piano trio.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Octet in F MAjor, D. 803 (1824)

Amateur musicians continue to play a role in this program with the commission by Archduke Rudolf’s aide, Count Ferdinand Troyer of the Octet, D. 803. Troyer was an amateur clarinet player and, when he invited Schubert to compose the Octet, he imposed the clause that it was to be, ‘exactly like Beethoven’s Septimino‘ [Septet]. The work that Schubert gave, on the surface, followed that prescription. The composition of the winds, with the clarinet, horn and bassoon is identical. (The septet turns into an octet only because Schubert adds a violin to the strings.) The number of movements and their layout is also the same. However, beneath the surface the works are quite different is scope and content.