Spohr’s Quintet

Statue of Louis Spohr in Kassel

Statue of Louis Spohr in Kassel

I have more music than I can keep track of. Yesterday, setting out for my client’s office, I grabbed a CD of chamber music by Spohr and played it in the car. The first piece was one which I love and didn’t realize I currently had: his Quintet for piano and winds, Opus 52. I hadn’t heard it in a very long time, but found it as fine yesterday as I always had before.

Louis Spohr is a very underrated composer, and anyone who thinks he doesn’t belong among the masters should listen to the Quintet. It has a particularly Mozartean sound among his works, while still being distinctively his. There’s a bit in the second movement which reminds me of the Jupiter Symphony. The interplay of tone color is one of its strongest features, with the piano conversing back and forth with the flute, clarinet, and horn. (The bassoon doesn’t escape its background role very much.)

My favorite movement is the last. It starts of with a stormy theme from the piano, then calms down to a dance-like second theme from the piano, which the horn and then the other winds answer with a very simple five-note phrase.

Spohr’s inspiration declined long before he died, and his later works have dragged down his reputation. I recommend the first five symphonies, the oratorio Die Letzten Dinge, some of his overtures, and much of his chamber music, especially the pieces for harp and violin.

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