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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 1
"an impassioned performance"
"A fine interpretation"
BBC Music Magazine
"The first instalment in what promises to be a fine Schubert series... It would be hard to imagine any Schubert cycle enjoying a more auspicious debut than this."
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
String Quartet in D minor D. 810 ("Death
and the Maiden")
Quartettsatz in C minor D. 703
Of the fifteen works Schubert wrote for
string quartet, seven were composed while he was at school, a chorister in the
Imperial Chapel and a pupil of the Staatskonvikt and five of these during his
last year there. Born in Vienna in 1797, the son and nephew of schoolmasters
who had moved to the city from Moravia, he had every encouragement to musical
activity at home. His father played the cello, his eldest brother Ignaz, born
two months after his parents' marriage, the violin, the instrument of
Ferdinand, three years Franz Schubert's senior, while the composer played the
viola. The family quartet was in later years to be augmented to make possible
the playing of works of more ambitious dimensions. At school Schubert played
the violin in the school orchestra, which he was later to lead, and was able to
embark on lessons from the Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose fiftieth
year in Vienna he was to join in celebrating in 1816.
In 1812, the year in which his mother died,
Schubert's voice broke. The following year brought the re-marriage of his
father and the chance of a scholarship to continue his schooling. Schubert
chose to reject this, and in 1814 he entered the Normal School of St. Anna to
train as a teacher, preparation for a position as assistant to his father. As a
teacher, however, he was obviously ineffective, although his year of duty at
his father's school certainly allowed him time for composition.
Schubert's subsequent life was spent still
largely in Vienna. He shared rooms with various friends, at times returning to
his father's house, since family ties remained strong. His circle of friends,
strong advocates of his music, included musical amateurs, poets, painters and,
among musicians, the singer Michael Vogl, who retired from the Court Opera in
1822 and proved a strong influence. There were frequent musical evenings at
which Schubert's music was performed, but never any official position and never
the kind of opportunity for larger scale composition that such a position might
The last years of Schubert's life were
clouded by ill health and the idea of death was a familiar one. His mother,
after all, had born fourteen children, of which only five survived, a not
uncommon statistical proportion at the time. For his contemporaries the poet
and writer Matthias Claudius came to terms with the spectre, nick-named by him
"Freund Hein". Death, even in the poem "Der Tod und das
Mädchen", is not so much a "wilder Knochenmann", a cruel man of
bones, as a friend offering peace and rest. Schubert's setting of the poem was
made in 1817. His String Quartet in D minor was written seven years later, in
March, 1824, before a happy summer, to be spent again at Zseliz as tutor to the
daughters of Count Johann Karl Esterházy. This is, nevertheless, a time in
Schubert's Life in which illness and thoughts of death were to occupy his mind.
The D minor Quartet has death at its heart.
The first movement opens with a call to our attention in a strongly marked
first subject, to be contrasted with a more yielding lyrical second subject.
This is followed by a slow movement that has given the quartet its title. It is
in the form of a theme and five variations, the former taken from Schubert's
setting of the poem by Matthias Claudius, "Der Tod und das Mädchen",
in which the second section provides apt music and characteristic rhythm for
the words of Death himself.
The scherzo moves, in its companion trio,
into wistful happiness, and leads to a final movement in which some have
detected a Dance of Death, its ominous urgency delayed briefly by an emphatic
second subject. The four movements, unified in mood and intention, form a work
of a very different kind from, for example, the Trout Quintet, in which the
world is one of greater peace and serenity. In the D minor Quartet tragedy is
near, whatever comfort Freund Hein may have to offer to the philosophical.
The so-called Quartettsatz, a single Allegro
movement in C minor, was written in December, 1820. Sketches exist for the
opening of a second, slow movement, but the existing first movement proves
remarkable enough in itself, with its chromatic and agitated first subject and
lilting A flat second subject. The work, significant even in its incomplete
form, belongs rather to the world of the three last quartets than to the more
comfortable domestic setting of the earlier quartets, the last of which had
been composed in 1816. It marks, in any case, the beginning of a period in
Schubert's life in which his music was becoming known to a wider public.
The members of the Kodály Quartet were
trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the second
violin Tamás Szabo, viola-player Gábor Fias and cellist János Devich, were
formerly in the Sebestyén Quartet, which was awarded the jury's special diploma
at the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won first prize at the
1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinist
Attila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodály Quartet, a title
adopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education.
The Kodály Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the Soviet Union
and in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert
hall and on television and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings of
string quartets by Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.
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SCHUBERT: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 1