Septet in F Major
For 2 Violins, Viola Cello, Bass, Clarinet, Horn & Bassoon
If you counted the number of instruments listed above, you will notice there are eight. So why then is it the Witt Septet. More on that in a moment. Witt’s Septet was published in 1817 but some scholars believe it was composed 20 years earlier. This seems unlikely in which case it would have predated Beethoven’s famous Op.20 Septet from 1802. While Witt’s Septet uses the same wind instrumentation—–a clarinet, horn and bassoon—it adds a second violin and doubles bass line. The title page of the first and only edition reads “Septetto pour Clarinette, Cor, Basson, 2 Violons, Alto e Basse” But if both the cello and bass were to take part, the work would have been an Octet and not a Septet. Because the title page is explicit, one is led to conclude that either the cello or the bass, but not both, could take part. However, an examination of the part—and there is only one—marked Cello & Bass indicates that certain passages are to be played by the bass and others by the cello. However, mostly both parts are in unison and perhaps this is why Witt chose to call it a "septet". And to tell the truth, either instrument can handle the entire part. On the other hand, it was more or less rediscovered by Dieter Klöcker, leader of the Consortium Classicum, who have recorded it twice, each time using both a cello and a bass. Either way, the work sounds fine.
Friedrich Witt (1770-1836) was born in the village of Niederstettin in the German principality of Wurttemburg. His he studied with his stepfather and later with Antonio Rosetti and served as a cellist in the court orchestra . He made several concert tours before settling in Wurzburg where he became the music director. As most of h is contemporaries, he was a prolific composer writing some 23 symphonies as well as a huge amount of chamber and church music. Witt’s compositions enjoyed considerable popularity during his lifetime and were often performed.
If Witt’s Septet dates from 1816-1817, which it almost certainly does, he would clearly have been familiar with Beethoven’s Septet which was wildly popular. So much so that it was Beethoven’s most performed work and caused Beethoven to remark that he wished he had never written it. In any event, the popularity of Beethoven’s Septet made it a model for the many other composers who, in an effort to duplicate Beethoven’s success, composed six movement septets with the same instrumentation. Witt, as noted used a slightly different instrumentation, and only wrote four movements. The work begins with an Adagio introduction and leads to a powerful Allegro maestoso in which the winds are used to telling effect.. The second movement, Adagio cantabile, is a serenade in which the winds are used to display their singing ability. The upbeat third movement marked Menuetto is a German Ländler. The jubliant finale is an Allegretto.
We looked for a set of parts to this very fine work for many years. Eventually we were able to obtain a copy of a set of the original parts, which at this point in time are 196 years old. As you might imagine, it has faded in places and there were all sorts of water marks, smudges, detritus and fingerings. We have spent many hours digitally cleaning, darkening, removing fingerings and correcting errors and adding rehearsal letters. We have been able to create a serviceable performance edition, most likely better than the one the Consortium Classicum played off of. But it is not pristine like a newly published work nor the equal in quality of a modern edition. The price, less than our generally very low prices, reflects this fact.