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Long-Lost Octet by Charles Martin Loeffler Finally Receives World Premiere Recording After 125 Years

by Madonna

After more than a century since its composition, a previously undiscovered octet by Charles Martin Loeffler, a composer based in Boston but born in Berlin, has finally received its world premiere recording in 2024.

The octet, scored for two clarinets, harp, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass, remained unpublished and unheard since its two initial performances in 1897 until now.

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In April 2020, clarinetist and arranger Graeme Steele Johnson stumbled upon references to Loeffler’s octet and located the manuscript in the archives of the Library of Congress.

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Over the course of a year, Johnson meticulously reconstructed the octet’s score from the 75-page manuscript, producing the first critical edition of the music. In 2022, he gathered an ensemble of musicians, including his former mentor David Shifrin, to bring the piece to life.

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The octet’s composition reflects a fusion of influences from Brahms, Debussy, and early Schoenberg, showcasing various moods from an elegiac, Wagnerian Adagio to a folksy alla Zingara finale, capturing the quest for a national identity in the early days of American music.

Johnson views this project as a poignant reminder of the narrow scope of our current musical canon, which excludes many deserving works that have been lost to time.

Loeffler, who initially trained as a violinist in Berlin and later studied composition in Paris, immigrated to the United States in 1881, where he served as assistant concertmaster for the Boston Symphony Orchestra until 1903. His compositions were regularly performed by the BSO and other American orchestras.

Apart from the octet, Loeffler’s chamber works include a Sonata for violin and piano (1886), String Quartet (1889), String Quintet (1889), Dramatic Scenes for cello and piano (1916), Music for Four Stringed Instruments (1917), Short Stories for string quartet and harp (1922), and Partita for violin and piano (1930).

The world-premiere recording of the octet is scheduled for release on June 7, 2024, by Delos Records, featuring Johnson, Shifrin, Bridget Kibbey on harp, Stella Chen and Siwoo Kim on violins, Matthew Lipman on viola, Samuel DeCaprio on cello, and Sam Suggs on double bass.

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