Charles Martin Loeffler’s 1897 Octet lay unpublished, unrecorded and unheard until its rediscovery in April 2020

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An octet that was composed in 1897 is finally enjoying its premiere recording in 2024.

The work is by Berlin-born, Boston-based composer Charles Martin Loeffler (1861-1935). It is scored for two clarinets, harp, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. Since two initial 1897 performances, the work has sat unpublished, unrecorded and unheard, until now.

In April 2020, clarinetist and arranger Graeme Steele Johnson found references to the Loeffler’s octet and tracked down the manuscript to the archives of the Library of Congress. 

Johnson spent a year reconstructing the octet’s score from the 75-page manuscript, creating the first critical edition of the music. In 2022 he assembled an octet of musicians, including his former teacher, David Shifrin, and himself on clarinet, to read through the piece.

Straddling influences from Brahms to Debussy to early Schoenberg, with moods ranging from an elegiac, Wagnerian Adagio to a folksy alla Zingara finale, the collision of styles embodies the search for a national identity that was happening at the dawn of American music.

February 1897 Premiere Program

The February 1897 premiere programme

Johnson sees the project as a ’reminder that our modern sense of the canon is based only on that narrow sliver of music we know today — the music that survived.’

Loeffler trained as a violinist and studied in Berlin with Joseph Joachim, Friedrich Kiel and Woldemar Bargiel. He moved to Paris, where he studied with Joseph Massart and composition with Ernest Guiraud. In 1881, Loeffler emigrated to the US, where he joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra as assistant concertmaster from 1882 to 1903.

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He first appeared as a violinist-composer with the orchestra in 1891 and his works were performed regularly by the BSO and by other American orchestras. 

Loeffler’s other 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 will be released on 7 June 2024 on Delos. The players featured are Johnson and David Shifrin on clarinets, 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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