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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Piano Works for Four Hands, Vol. 6 (Humphreys, Markham)
Franz Schubert’s gift for songwriting transfers into the lyrical sensitivities in his instrumental music. Composed for himself and friends to play at musical evenings, the brilliant Rondo, D 608 shares the musical burden equally between the parts. The Sonata for Piano Duet, D 617 echoes the spirit of Mozart and was written for the daughters of Count Esterházy, the Six Grandes Marches et Trios having their place in the ballroom. Of these Nos 2 and 3 can be found in Vol 5 (8.570354), which was a Gramophone ‘Editor’s Choice’.
Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Piano Works for Four Hands • 6
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster, and spent the greater part of his short life in the city. His parents had settled in Vienna, his father moving there from Moravia in 1783 to join his schoolmaster brother at a school in the suburb of Leopoldstadt and marrying in 1785 a woman who had her origins in Silesia and was to bear him fourteen children. Franz Schubert was the twelfth of these and the fourth to survive infancy. He began to learn the piano at the age of five, with the help of his brother Ignaz, twelve years his senior, and three years later started to learn the violin, while serving as a chorister at Lichtental church. From there he applied, on the recommendation of Antonio Salieri, to join the Imperial Chapel, into which he was accepted in October 1808, as a chorister now allowed to study at the Akademisches Gymnasium, boarding at the Stadtkonvikt, his future education guaranteed.
During his schooldays Schubert formed friendships that he was to maintain for the rest of his life. After his voice broke in 1812, he was offered, as expected, a scholarship to enable him to continue his general education, but he chose, instead, to train as a primary school teacher, while devoting more time to music and, in particular, to composition, the art to which he was already making a prolific contribution. In 1815 he was able to join his father as an assistant teacher, but showed no great aptitude or liking for the work. Instead he was able to continue the earlier friendships he had formed at school and make new acquaintances. His meeting in 1816 with Franz von Schober allowed him to accept an invitation to live in the latterʼs apartment, an arrangement that relieved him of the necessity of earning his keep in the schoolroom. In August 1817 he returned home again, when room was needed by Schober for his dying brother, and resumed his place, for the moment, in the classroom. The following summer he spent in part at Zseliz in Hungary as music tutor to the two daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy von Galánta, before returning to Vienna to lodge with a new friend, the poet Johann Mayrhofer, an arrangement that continued until near the end of 1820, after which Schubert spent some months living alone, now able to afford the necessary rent.
By this period of his life it seemed that Schubert was on the verge of solid success as a composer and musician. Thanks to his friends, in particular the older singer Johann Michael Vogl, a school-friend of Mozartʼs pupil Süssmayr, Leopold von Sonnleithner and others, his music was winning an audience. There was collaboration with Schober on a new opera, later rejected by the Court Opera, but in other respects his name was becoming known as a composer beyond his immediate circle. He lodged once again with the Schobers in 1822 and 1823 and it was at this time that his health began to deteriorate, through a venereal infection that was then incurable. This illness overshadowed the remaining years of his life and was the seeming cause of his early death. It has been thought to have been a direct consequence of the dissolute way of life into which Schober introduced him and which for a time alienated him from some of his former friends. The following years brought intermittent returns to his fatherʼs house, since 1818 in the suburb of Rossau, and a continuation of social life that often centred on his own musical accomplishments and of his intense activity as a composer. In February 1828 the first public concert of his music was given in Vienna, an enterprise that proved financially successful, and he was able to spend the summer with friends, including Schober, before moving, in September, to the suburb of Wieden to stay with his brother Ferdinand, in the hope that his health might improve. Social activities continued, suggesting that he was unaware of the imminence of his death, but at the end of October he was taken ill at dinner and in the following days his condition became worse. He died on 19 November.
During Schubertʼs final years publishers had started to show an interest in his work. He had fulfilled commissions for the theatre and delighted his friends with songs, piano pieces and chamber music. It was with his songs, above all, that Schubert won a lasting reputation and to this body of work that he made a contribution equally remarkable for its quality as for its quantity, with settings of poems by major and minor poets, a reflection of literary interests of the period. His gift for the invention of an apt and singable melody is reflected in much else that he wrote.
In January 1818 Schubert sketched out the Rondo in D major, D 608, for piano duet, presumably for the Hungarian-born pianist and civil servant Josef von Gahy. Gahy was often to partner Schubert in piano duets at social gatherings, where his vigorous style of playing offered a welcome addition to domestic entertainment. The score of the Rondo carries the words ʻNotre amitié est invariableʼ (ʻOur friendship is constantʼ), although Schubertʼs later greetings sent to ʻHerr Gahyʼ during the following summer suggests no close friendship at this time. In subsequent years they seem to have performed often together and in the early autumn of 1825 he was Schubertʼs companion on his return to Vienna after a summer excursion to Steyr. The Rondo shares the musical burden equally between primo and secondo, its lively principal theme returning to frame a dramatic episode in D minor and the running G major semiquavers of the second episode.
It was possible that Schubert had taught the two young daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy von Galánta in Vienna. In July 1818, at any rate, he travelled to the Countʼs country property at Zseliz, employed to give piano lessons there to Karoline and Marie Esterházy von Galánta. He stayed there until November, enjoying a certain security in his life as a member of the household, lodged in the stewardʼs quarters and paid 76 florins a month. The two girls were talented musically, and Schubert had the leisure and room to compose as he wished. Among the piano duets he wrote for the two sisters was the Sonata for Piano Duet in B flat major, D 617, published as Op 30 in 1823 and dedicated to Count Ferdinand Pálffy von Erdöd, who had bought and lavished money on the Theater an der Wien, with as little ultimate success as the two works of Schubert performed there, Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp) and the play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Zypern (Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus), for which Schubert provided incidental music. In sonata-form, the first movement of the Sonata in B flat major echoes the spirit of Mozart. The D minor slow movement modulates to the major in its tripartite course and the final Allegretto, with its characteristic modulations and moments of drama, brings the work to an end.
In May 1824, restored for the moment to health, Schubert was again employed by the Esterházys during the summer months at Zseliz, where he remained until mid-October. As during his earlier stay, he provided duets for his pupils, now on a more ambitious scale. His Six Grandes Marches et Trios, D819, were possibly written at Zseliz at this time, although they may have been the work of his earlier visit in 1818. At all events they were published in 1825 with a dedication ʻen marque de reconnaissance à son ami I. Bernhardt, docteur en médecineʼ. Dr J. Bernhardt had been treating Schubert in 1823 and 1824 and become a member of the circle of Schubert and his friends. These pieces had a particular place in a period and place where war had long been a reality of life; the form also, of course, had its place in the ballroom. The first of the group, in E flat major, has an A flat major Trio, the fourth, in D major, frames a G major Trio, and the fifth, in E flat minor and marked Andante is an impressively sombre funeral march, with a second section modulating from F sharp minor to A major. The Trio is in E flat major and provides a contrast of mood and pace. The final March, marked Allegro con brio and in E major, is, with its C major Trio, a more spirited affair. Grandes Marches Nos 2 and 3 are included in Volume 5 of the present series [Naxos 8.570354].
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