Octet for Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, Bass, Flute, Oboe & Horn, Op.3
Mily Balakirev (1837-1910) was born in the Russian town of Nizhy Novgorod. As a boy he studied piano locally and in Moscow. At 18 he went to St. Petersburg where he met Glinka who took him on as a composition student. Glinka's operas on Russian themes, such as Ruslan and Ludmilla, inspired Balakirev to take the position that Russia should have its own distinct school of music, free from Southern and Western European influences. He gathered around him composers with similar ideals, whom he promised to train according to his own principles. These included Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin and Cui. They became known as the Mighty Five. Today, he is remembered as the founder of the Russian National School of Composition. Most of Balakirev's compositions were for his own instrument, the piano. As for chamber music, he appears to have composed only one work, his Octet for Piano, Winds and Strings, of which only the first movement survives.
Judging from this movement, which is composed on a grand scale, the entire octet must have been a mammoth work of symphonic proportions. It is not known when exactly it was composed but it is an early work. We know from Balakirev's memoirs that he showed the work to Glinka who commented favorably on it. As Glinka left St. Petersburg for Berlin in 1856 (dying there the next year), and as Balakirev only arrived in St. Petersburg in 1855, we can date the work from the mid 1850's and most probably from 1855 since the work shows the influence of Glinka's later works, such as Ruslan and Ludmilla. In the Allegro molto, we find that Balakirev entrusts most of the melodic material to the winds and strings, with most of the voices receiving solos, while the piano is given the role of embellishing and developing with a part full of Chopin-esque pyrotechnics. The movement opens in a fashion rather like Glinka's Grand Sextet for Piano and Strings. Balakirev shows he, too, has a gift for melody with the lovely second theme being based on a Russian folk song.
This one movement, as noted is quite substantial, and as longer as many a shorter work with three movements. Hard to find and often unavailable, we are pleased to present it once again.