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Ludwig van Beethoven: "Octet in E-Flat," Op. 103

Octet in E-flat, Op. 103

  1. Allegro

  2. Andante

  3. Menuetto

  4. Presto

Ludwig van Beethoven

Born: December 1770, Bonn, Germany

Died: March 26, 1827, Vienna, Austria

Instrumentation: Wind Octet

Composed: 1792

Duration: 9 minutes

Music for wind instruments does not feature prominently in Beethoven’s catalogue of mature works, but as a young and aspiring composer in Bonn, he wrote a variety of pieces for different (and sometimes unusual) instrumental combinations at the behest of his patron, the elector Maximilian Franz. The Octet for Winds, Op. 103, stands apart from nearly all his other works. It acquired its curiously high opus number despite the date of its composition, 1793, when it was published posthumously and given its opus designation by the publishers in Vienna. The Octet evolved further when Beethoven revised the work in 1795, after beginning his studies with Haydn, and was published the following year as String Quintet, Op. 4. But this is not the end of the story: the other famous Beethoven wind work, the Rondino in E-flat Major, WoO 25, was originally its intended finale. When Beethoven abandoned it and wrote a new finale, the leftover finale was set aside, and later published as a mini work: the Rondino by Diabelli (of the famed Diabelli Variations).

Born from the tradition of Harmoniemusik, or wind-band music, cultivated by nobility in German-speaking lands, the octet was intended as Tafelmusik (table or background music). Thus, the music is light without being simple. The rough, abrupt gestures of the young Beethoven’s music here intersect with hints of an early maturity, as evident in the third movement. Despite its title, “Minuet” is one of the earliest examples of Beethoven’s predilection for replacing the minuet with a more untamed and lighthearted scherzo. Compared to most Tafelmusik, this piece boasts some rather high-flying, virtuoso writing for the horns.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Octet in E-Flat, Op. 103

Members of the Berlin Philharmonic

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