1825: Mendelssohn: Octet in Eb major, Op. 20, age 16

Mr. Peabody Says:

This was was written by 16-year-old Felix Mendelssohn during the fall of 1825 and completed on October 15. Mendelssohn wrote his octet and gave a signed score to his friend and violin teacher Eduard Rietz as a birthday present. Rietz copied parts from the score to use for the premiere. Just a few years later he was dead.

Heifitz and seven others

This is another remarkable recording from 1961.

  1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (E-flat major)
  2. Andante (C minor)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (G minor)
  4. Presto (E-flat major)


  • Written for
  • four violins
  • two violas
  • two cellos

Eduard Ritz:

Eduard Rietz was born at Berlin born Oct, 17, 1802 and died in 1832. He was only seven years older than Mendelssohn and was only 26 years old when he died. Mendelssohn counted him amongst his dearest and nearest friends, so his early death was a terrible shock. He died of consumption, which today we call tuberculosis, the same disease that killed Chopin and so many others. All this beautiful music contrasts with a time of suffering, early death and war. Felix wrote:

I must endeavour to inure myself to this, but the fact that I can recall no one thing without being reminded of him, that I shall never hear music, or write it, without thinking of him, doubles the sorrow of such a separation. The former days are now indeed departed, but it is not these alone that I lose, but also the man I so sincerely loved. Had I never had any, or had I lost all cause for loving him, I must without a cause have loved him all the same. He loved me too, and the knowledge that there was such a man in the world – one on whom I could rely, who lived to love me, and whose wishes and aims were identical with my own – this is all over: it is the hardest blow that has yet befallen me, and never shall I forget it.”

A new genre:

The string octet was a fairly new genre of chamber music at the time, the most widely known genre of chamber music still being the string quartet. The genre was rapidly gaining popularity among other composers.

Toscannini wrote a version for full orchestra:

The piece is sometimes played by full string sections using more players for each part as well as an added double bass part which usually (but not always) doubles the second cello part an octave lower. Arturo Toscanini created such a version for a performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in 1947.

The scherzo was orchestrated for his 1st symphony:

later scored for orchestra as a replacement for the minuet in the composer’s First Symphony at its premiere, is believed to have been inspired by the section of Goethe’s Faust titled “Walpurgis Night’s Dream”.[7] Fragments of this movement recur in the finale, as a precursor to the “cyclic” technique employed by later 19th-century composers. The entire work is also notable for its extended use of counterpoint, with the finale, in particular, beginning with an eight-part fugato. In this section, Mendelssohn quotes the melody of “And he shall reign forever and ever” from the “Hallelujah Chorus” of Handel’s Messiah.[8][9]\


The original score is for a double string quartet with four violins and pairs of violas and cellos. Mendelssohn instructed in the public score:

“This Octet must be played by all the instruments in symphonic orchestral style. Pianos and fortes must be strictly observed and more strongly emphasized than is usual in pieces of this character.”

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