Spohr's Quintet for flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon and piano was begun in London in the summer of 1820. It was written with his wife, Dorette, in mind, a harp virtuosi who had recently been persuaded to swap to the piano by her husband. Spohr completed the work back in Germany and the Quintet had its first performance in November in Frankfurt am Main on the couple's way to Paris. A later arrangement for piano and strings in D minor was published as Op. 53.
Following an intense first movement and a beautiful Larghetto con moto, the chromatic syncopation of the Minuet is quite charming. The Quintet is concluded by an energetic Allegro molto that bristles with barely contained excitement.
Born in Brunswick, Germany, in 1784, to a mother who was an accomplished singer and pianist, and to a father who was a flautist, Louis Spohr soon displayed an interest and ability in music. His father bought him a violin in 1789 and he proceeded to study with Riemenschneider and from about 1791 with the French émigré Dufour. Under Dufour Spohr's playing progressed rapidly and he was encouraged to attempt composition. It was Dufour who persuaded Spohr's parents to send their son to the Collegium Carolinum in Brunswick, where he would have an opportunity to develop his talents further. There, he studied the violin privately with Gottfried Kunisch and Charles Louis Maucourt, receiving instruction in musical theory from the organist Carl August Hartung.
A badly planned concert tour to Hamburg in 1799 resulted in Spohr, on his own initiative, approaching Duke Carl Wilhelm Ferdinand of Brunswick for patronage. Seeing his potential in a concert at the court, the Duke appointed him at just 15 years old as a chamber musician ('Kammermusicus'), promising to ensure that his studies continued. For the next three years Spohr became acquainted through his performances with a wide range of composers and genres, developing a particular enthusiasm for the works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven . In April 1802 Franz Eck (a representative of the Mannheim School) was engaged to teach Spohr in violin technique and he took him with him on a concert tour to St. Petersburg. When Spohr returned to Brunswick in the summer of 1803 he had matured as a virtuoso and as a composer, and had a portfolio of works including his Violin Concerto (op. 1) and his Violin Duets (op.3). His well received official début as a soloist resulted in his re-employment in the court orchestra with a greatly increased salary. A successful concert tour established his fame in Germany as a violinist, resulting in his invitation to apply for the post of Konzertmeister in Gotha, a position he took up in August 1805.
Spohr remained in Gotha until 1812, working on his compositions and developing his skills as a conductor. Many of his works were inspired by the brilliant harpist Dorothea Scheidler, whom he had married in 1806; he produced a series of works for violin and harp which they performed in a number of concert tours. Spohr continued to write for the violin, but went on to write two clarinet concertos for Simon Hermstedt and a series of operas and lieder. Suggestions by Georg Friedrich Bischoff resulted in his first symphony in 1811 and his first oratorio, Das jüngste Gericht, the following year. At Bischoff's request Spohr directed a series of large-scale music festivals in Frankenhausen and Erfurt. It was during this period that Spohr began to acquire his reputation as a violin teacher, a reputation that resulted in him teaching many leading violinists of later generations.
In 1812 he accepted the post of Kapellmeister of the orchestra of the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, where his wife was engaged as principal harpist. Whilst there he formed a friendship with Beethoven , who inspired him to continue to develop his compositional skills, producing a series of chamber works and completing his opera Faust . In 1815 Spohr left Vienna to spend two years touring Switzerland, Italy and Germany. From the end of 1817 he was director of Opera in Frankfurt. It was here that he composed a new opera, Zemire und Azor , and his String Quartets (op. 45). Disagreements with the management of the theatre meant that Spohr tendered his resignation.
In February 1820 Spohr travelled to England to begin a lucrative series of engagements with the London Philharmonic Society, including the performance of his recently written Second Symphony. However, it was not for his compositions that he became well known there, but for his roles as violinist and conductor. Dorothea and Spohr ended the year with their first visit to Paris. There he only made one public appearance, with his new violin concerto, to rather grudging praise from the press to whom he had not offered the customary bribes. In October 1821 Spohr and his family settled in Dresden, where he renewed his acquaintance with Weber and began work on what was to be his most successful opera, Jessonda. Through Weber's suggestion he was offered the position of Kapellmeister in Kassel, where he was to remain for until his death in 1859. As part of his post he directed the opera and a series of subscription concerts, founding the Cäcilienverein to facilitate the performance of choral works. Many accomplished violinists came to study with Spohr including Hubert Ries and Ferdinand David. From this point on Spohr also began to concentrate on composing rather than on his own performances as a violinist. The hugely successful performance of Jessonda in 1823 confirmed his reputation as one of Germany's leading composers, supported by the production of his oratorio Die letzen Dinge, in 1826. This reputation was extended to England after the performance of this work at the Norwich Festival of 1830.
Two years after the death of his wife, Dorothea, in 1834, Spohr married Marianne Pfeiffer, a talented amateur pianist who inspired him to write a series of chamber works for piano. His Piano Sonata, composed in 1843, was dedicated to Mendelssohn , whom he admired and who in turn regarded him with deep respect. A trip over to England in 1839 to conduct Des Heilands letzte Stunden marked the beginning of a period of fame comparable to that of Mendelssohn's, resulting in a number of commissions and concerts there. In 1845 Spohr had the great honour of co-directing, with Liszt , the great Beethoven Festival at Bonn. It was during this period that Spohr began to receive numerous honours in Germany, including a doctorate from Marburg University and the belated recognition of his worth on the 25th anniversary of his appointment in Kassel, with the award of the title of Generalmusikdirektor. Shortly afterwards Spohr was appointed to the place in the Prussian order pour le mérite left vacant by Mendelssohn’s death.
The lateness of such awards to Spohr may have been to some measure because of his outspoken political views. In 1848 he was inspired by the movement towards political liberalisation, to write his String Sextet (op. 140), his hopes for the future dashed when a series of reforms were reversed. In protest he stopped playing the violin in public in Kassel, making no secret of his disgust with the course of politics. Only his international fame seems to have saved him from the persecution that other state servants suffered because of their liberal ideas. When he finally received an official notice, in November 1857, that he was to be 'permitted to retire' his physical vigour was such that he briefly considered bringing a lawsuit against the elector. However, an accident during that winter, in which he broke his right arm, put an end to his violin playing, and he gradually sank into depression, dying after a short illness in October 1859.