The historical past played perhaps a more important role in Mendelssohn's music than in that of any other composer. This article approaches the work traditionally seen as his first major compositional achievement, the Octet in E♭♭ Major for Strings, op. 20 (1825), from the perspective of the composer's strong historical sense and takes up ideas of musical memory, history, and circular narrative journey as embodied in the cyclical structure of the piece. The Octet enacts a coming to self-consciousness of its own musical history, a process with close parallels in the writings of Goethe and Hegel, both of whom Mendelssohn knew personally. In its cyclical manipulations of musical time, Mendelssohn's Octet sets up a new formal and expressive paradigm for a musical work that would be of major significance for the instrumental music of the later nineteenth century.

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