March 21, 2015: Octagon


Martin Beaver, Mark Fewer, violins;
Rivka Golani, viola;

Rachel Mercer, cello;
Joe Phillips, double bass;
James Campbell, clarinet;
Kathleen McLean, bassoon;
Ken MacDonald, French horn

Pre-Concert Performance of Bach’s Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006: Preludio by Gregory Lewis, violin. (Winner of the Aikins Memorial Trophy and the Victor Feldbrill Trophy at the Winnipeg Music Festival on Saturday, March 14, 2015)


Saturday, March 21, 2015 at 8 PM


Septet in E flat major, Op. 20

Octet in F major D.803

Dear Friends,

Octagon was founded in 1998 by bassoonist George Zukerman, a member of the Order of Canada, along with Andrew Dawes, O.C., James Campbell, C.M., Angèle Dubeau, O.C., Amanda Forsyth, Rivka Golani, Martin Hackleman and Joel Quarrington. The original ensemble boasted four members of the Order of Canada, as well as five Juno award winners. With its unusual instrumental makeup of strings, clarinet, bassoon and French horn, Octagon is a hybrid chamber ensemble – halfway between a string quartet and a chamber orchestra. This Octagon performance is the start of a four province cross-Canada tour, with subsequent concerts in Regina, Vancouver, Kelowna, Cranbrook, and Sault Ste. Marie.

Martin Beaver, Mark Fewer, Rivka Golani, and Rachel Mercer are familiar faces to the Virtuosi Concerts stage. In 2004, Martin Beaver performed here as first violin of the famed Tokyo String Quartet – one of the world’s finest ensembles, until they retired the quartet two years ago. We are fortunate to hear him again leading the Octet.

THE SEPTET is a resolutely cheerful and optimistic work. “It has pleased me greatly,” Beethoven wrote his publisher after its successful premiere in 1800, alongside Haydn’s Creation. “The Septet is my Creation”, he stated proudly, after the concert. However, its immense popularity began to vex him over the years. Beethoven feared that it might overshadow his more serious, challenging and innovative compositions. Following its sensational London reception in 1815, Beethoven said, “That damn work; I wish it could be burned!”  When complimented by an admirer, he insisted, “Mozart wrote it!” And indeed, it fairly sparkles with Mozartean elegance and grace. (All quotes were in German, of course.) Obviously, Beethoven need hardly have worried about his profound musical legacy.

THE OCTET: 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.”

BEETHOVEN AND SCHUBERT: Schubert revered Beethoven and held him in the highest esteem, though the two composers moved in different circles in Vienna. I have been unable to determine how Beethoven regarded Schubert’s Octet specifically.  But when Beethoven was on his deathbed in 1827, a friend gave him many manuscripts of Schubert’s songs. Beethoven is said to have been astonished at the quantity and quality of what he saw, claiming, “Truly in Schubert there is the divine spark.”  And when Schubert visited the dying composer, Beethoven told him, “You, Franz, have my soul.” Schubert would serve as a torch-bearer at Beethoven’s funeral. Schubert outlived Beethoven by a mere twenty months. During this time his productivity was enormous as he strove almost frantically to come to terms with the loss of his musical hero. In death, Schubert’s final wish was granted by his father – to be buried alongside Beethoven.

THE MUSIC: Here is a sampling of the two works. For the Beethoven Septet, here is the Academy of St. Martins-in-the-Fields Chamber Ensemble. CLICK HERE

The Berlin Philharmonic Octet performs the Schubert Octet. CLICK HERE

See you all at the concert.