When Omega launched their 2017 season, Co-Artistic Director Maria Raspopova spoke about her love of chamber music. She said: “[Chamber music] starts with the name, continues with the repertoire and ends with the challenge of bringing it to life. When one person plays, one person speaks. When four people play, four people speak. Sometimes they speak in harmony, other times they disagree passionately. They challenge each other, inspire each other. They support, tease, gang-up against each other, laugh and, have loads of fun together. The musicians who are together on stage in the moment of performances are supremely important to each other as they go deep into these intense emotions.”
So it is only fitting that Omega will perform music that was written exclusively for a group of friends to play. That music is Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, “The Trout,” and the famed Octet in F. Both of these works were composed for a group of friends to play in their homes: a true ‘musical conversation with friends.’ His Piano Quintet in A Major and the Octet in F are, remarkably, two of his most ‘social’ works. Both of these works were composed with the conditions that Schubert loved most: that neither piece was intended for public performance, but rather composed for amateurs who wanted something new to play.
Throughout his life, Schubert had many friends and surrounded himself with their company on many occasions. His friends included writers, poets, painters and artistic members of society. A list of his most influential friends are listed here.
“His character,” said Mayrhofer (a friend) of Schubert, “was a mixture of tenderness and coarseness, sensuality and candour, sociability and melancholy.” It is a frank opinion, as it was written by a friend—a friend who knew, intimately, what the melancholy was about. Schubert’s music does contain all of these aspects, and that’s what makes it loved and adored by audiences to this day. What is charming in Schubert’s music is much more than the expression of his own personality—a sunny enjoyment of life, which is “often ready to turn to tears and which by its very happiness can bring tears to the listener’s eyes.”
The Piano Quintet was composed for Sylvester Paumgartner, an amateur cellist who had plenty of money and frequently held musical gatherings at his home in Steyr. The Octet in F was commissioned by Count Ferdinand Troyer, who by all accounts, was an accomplished clarinettist and it was at his home, in Vienna, where the Octet was first performed.
These musical and artistic gatherings were called Schubertiades. They were gatherings that included groups of poets, philosophers, musicians, composers and so on. They would all get together and hold these wonderful soiress in which music was performed (mainly be amateur musicians) in small chamber parlours. Imagine being present at one of these Schubertiades as you heard Schubert's Octet or Piano Quintet in A Major for the first time! That would have been an amazing experience! We are holding our own Schubertiade and you are invited! Live the experience of these events as Omega ensemble presents the famed Octet in F and the Trout Piano Quintet.
There are two famous depictions of Schubertiades. The first is an 1868 drawing made by Schubert contemporary Moritz von Schwind, which shows a relatively intimate scene. The drawing shows Schubert at the piano, with his circle of friends surrounding him. The woman in the painting on the wall is Schubert's alleged, unrequited love, the Countess Karoline Esterházy.
In contrast, the 1897 depiction by Julius Schmid is a somewhat more formal affair, and the people in the painting are not recognizably Schubert's friends.
Julius Schmid's more 'formal' affair of a Schubertiade from 1897
Moritz von Schwind's depcition of a Schubertiade 1868
Piano Quintet in A Major “The Trout”
Schubert’s “Trout” is one of the most popular and most-loved chamber works of all-time. Each year, when audiences are asked to select their favourite classical pieces of music in radio polls, the Trout always appears in the top-ten. The final movement of the work, based on Schubert’s song “The Trout,” which was suggested by Paumgartner-who loved the song.
“The 'Trout' is unusual in its scoring: rather than the usual piano quintet line-up of piano and string quartet, the quintet is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. The resulting transparency of texture and infectious melodies instantly bring to mind the calm serenity of summer mountain air and the 'darting' piano accompaniment in the fourth movement vividly conjures up that wriggling trout!”
The Octet in F
In the Octet, Schubert fittingly uses the a duet from Die Freunde von Salamanka (The Friends from Salamanca) as a theme and variations in the fourth movement. Die Freunde von Salamanka was an opera with dialogue that Schubert composed when he was 18, but like many of his stage works, was never performed in his lifetime. It’s basically a romantic comedy, set in Spain. The Singspiel is rarely performed, however, it’s Overture regularly receives performances and recordings.
The Overture to Schubert’s Die Freunde von Salamanka
In the Adagio, which in deference to Count von Troyer, begins with a clarinet solo which is lyrical and tranquil. For the most part, the clarinet soars on its own with support from the strings. Later the bassoon enters in conversation and quite late in the movement the horn finally makes a statement, soft, yet subtle. This movement best represents the musical conversation amongst friends. One starts talking, the other one joins in (with the sound of the party in the background) and so on. Imagine hearing this at one of the many Schubertiades in 18th Century Vienna!
You’re Invited to the Party
These artistic gatherings are still celebrated today, but are usually more formal events such as festivals and concerts. Now, Omega are celebrating their own Schubertiade at City Recital Hall, celebrating two of his music iconic and adored works: The Piano Quintet in A Major and the Octet in F. Don’t miss out on this celebration of all things Schubert in an unforgettable evening of sublime music making.
Also, there’s some exclusive and exciting news for Omega Patrons! You could win a private concert in your home, featuring musicians from Omega Ensemble. Click the image link below to find out more.