In my 1930 edition
of Cobbett’s Cyclopedic Survey of
Chamber Music the entry on Spohr
contains the following intriguing paragraph:-
That Spohr had admirers
in England in his day is proved by the
reception given to his chamber works
at a festival given in his honour by
the Queen’s Square Select Society. Three
double quartets, two quintets, an octet,
and a nonet were included in the generously
ample programme, and the company listened
from 2 till 7 without the least sing
of weariness. There were heroes in those
days – among audiences.
Spohr wrote a good
deal of chamber music – enough to fuel
quite a lot of five hour long concerts.
I haven’t heard more than a small proportion
of this music. I can, though, report
that listening to it demands no heroism.
However, I have generally found that
it does require a certain patience.
Spohr is not, on the whole, a composer
whose most obvious virtues include concision.
Nor – and given that he was so prolific,
this is not surprising – is he always
able to maintain a consistent level
of invention throughout his often quite
lengthy compositions. In listening to
Spohr my experience has generally been
that – almost infallibly – there is
plenty to enjoy in every work; but –
almost as infallibly – there are also
things about which one has reservations,
or which are simply not very gripping.
The highlight here
is provided by the Sextet. Its opening
allegro moderato is well-integrated,
motifs seeming to generate their successors
and the whole communicating a sense
of joy in its richly harmonised lines.
In a catalogue of his compositions which
he compiled, Spohr is said to have noted
alongside the Sextet, "written
in March and April, at the time of the
glorious people’s revolution for the
liberty, unity and greatness of Germany".
In the larghetto there is much that
is solemn, a sense of deeper reflection,
and in the last movement the repetition
of material from the opening allegro
is part of the music’s trajectory towards
a final joyful affirmation. This is
one of the finest of the chamber works
by Spohr which I have heard; but even
here I am not sure that the third movement
is quite on the same level, in tightness
of structure and invention, as the first
The Seventh Quintet,
it is suggested in the helpful booklet
notes by Keith Warsop - a latter-day
British admirer of Spohr, Chairman of
the Spohr society of Great Britain -
reflects Spohr’s disappointment with
the outcome of the revolution of 1848,
as more reactionary forces reasserted
themselves and idealistic hopes began
to fade. Certainly there is a troubled
feeling to much of the writing here,
a sadness which never really lifts.
The lighter side of
Spohr is on display in the much earlier
Potpourri. Here a solo violin
and string quartet begins with the statement
of a Russian folk tune and three variations
on it before – a delightful surprise
– it is succeeded by ‘Là ci darem
la mano’ from Don Giovanni. Spohr
gives us some attractive variations
on this before a coda which returns
us to the first tune. A slight, but
warm and delightful piece.
Throughout, the New
Haydn Quartet and their various supplementary
forces play with conviction and warmth.
While it would be wrong to suggest that
is great music or essential listening,
Spohr is a figure of some importance
in the evolution of nineteenth-century
music. I, at least, am grateful to Naxos
for giving us the chance to hear some
of his most important chamber music
(notably the sextet). I remain, however,
untempted by any desire to listen to
Spohr for five hours at a time.
see also review
by Michael Cookson