According to Angus Watson, a contemporary expert on the chamber music of the precursor of musical romanticism: ‘For musicians, a chance to play Beethoven’s Septet is like being invited to a wonderful party – the best sort, where each guest is welcomed individually for who they are, and listened to for what they have to say, whether it is serious or amusing.’ This cheerful and highly elegant work, evocative of the Classical divertimento, was first performed in public alongside Beethoven’s First Symphony in the last year of the eighteenth century and was dedicated to the Austrian empress Maria Theresa. In that first performance, the Septet eclipsed the Symphony (no doubt too innovative for tastes at that time), becoming one of the most readily performed Beethoven works during his lifetime, much to the composer’s subsequent irritation.
The exceptional popularity of the Septet during the Romantic era contributed to the composing of another masterwork of chamber music. One high-born clarinettist approached Franz Schubert with a request that he compose a work ‘just like Beethoven’s Septet’, thereby providing the impulse for the writing of the Octet in F major. In terms of forces, this work differs from the original solely in the addition of a violin part. As in the Beethoven, the Octet consists of six movements, and the motivic material was partly drawn from the composer’s own earlier work, combining to splendid effect the ‘symphonic’ potential of an expanded performance apparatus with the subtlety of chamber forces.