Octet for 4 Violins, 2 Violas & 2 Cellos Op. 15a
(b. Berlin, 3 October 1828 – d. Berlin, 23 February 1897)
Octet for 4 Violins, 2 Violas and 2 Violoncellos, Op. 15a
Woldemar Bargiel was born in 1828 in Berlin to Adolph Bargiel and Mariane Wieck (Clara Schumann’s mother) and learned music from a very young age. He studied at the Leipzig Conservatory (where the String Octet was written), and went on to become a composer and professor at Joseph Joachim’s Berliner Musikhochschule (now the Berlin University of the Arts) where he remained until his death in 1897. The circles of stunning composers and musicians surrounding Bargiel often overshadowed his own achievements – both during his lifetime and perhaps even more so now. As half-brother to Clara Schumann, he grew up in Mendelssohn’s choir, became Robert Schumann’s brother-in-law, and was a close personal friend of Johannes Brahms.
A piece of music composed in school and performed as part of school examinations is not usually expected to have very much long-term staying power, but Woldemar Bargiel’s Octet for Strings has just that. The three movements are full of the exuberant life, enthusiasm and energy one expects from a young composer, with a writing style of someone dedicated to compositional perfection. In the first performance, of only the first movement, at the Leipzig Conservatory, on 20 December 1849, Joachim played the first violin. The octet was not published until 1877. The strong influence of Felix Mendelsson’s octet from 1825 cannot be ignored, and yet Bargiel’s octet is not derivative, standing solidly on its own. It was dedicated to Ludvig Norman, a Swedish composer who was also at the Leipzig Conservatory at the time.
The octet is in three movements. The first has an Adagio introduction with an accelerando to Allegro appassionato. The writing in this first movement is symphonic, with very independent parts. The other two movements have more quartet-like writing. The second movement begins Andante sostenuto with a choral-like theme (in 4/8) and switching to a scherzo-like Allegro (in 3/8) with running eight notes very reminiscent of the second movement of Schumann’s op 47 Piano Quartet. These two themes alternate three more times, ending Andante. The last is a 2/4 Allegro, which alternates between a robust c-major rustic dance theme with a drone and a lighter and crisper theme in G-minor.
Irma Servatius, 2018
For performance material please contact the publisher Breitkopf & Härtel, Wiesbaden.