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OCTAGON: JAMES CAMPBELL & FRIENDS

Schubert lived largely in the shadow of Beethoven in Vienna. Imagine his thrill at being offered a commission in 1824 to compose a companion piece to Beethoven’s Septet. The commission came from Count Ferdinand Troyer, a proficient amateur clarinetist. Troyer served as an official in the household of Archduke Rudolf Hapsburg, heir to the Austrian throne, and a friend and patron of Beethoven. It could not have come at a better time. Schubert was in very poor health, quite penniless, existing only with the help of a few loyal supporters, and despondent that his music was not being performed. In a letter, he wrote, “Every night when I go to bed, I hope I may not awake…I live without pleasure or friends.”

The Octet was completed virtually in one month in 1824 and received a private performance in Count Troyer’s apartment, with the Count on clarinet, naturally. Schubert retained the same instrumentation as Beethoven’s Septet, but added a second violin to give a fuller sound. Surprisingly, the music is determinedly sunny and optimistic, betraying little of Schubert’s pain and suffering. A later public performance was very well received and considered by one reviewer as “…worthy of the composer’s well-known talents.”