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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 2
Franz Schubert (1797- 1828)
String Quartet No.13 in A Minor, D. 804
String Quartet No.10 in E Flat Major, D. 87
Franz Schubert was born in 1797, the son of a Vienna schoolmaster, and had his education as a chorister of the Imperial Chapel at the Staatskonvikt. Both at school and at home he had an active musical life, as a player and as a composer, and when his voice broke and he was offered the means to continue his academic education, he decided, instead, to train as a teacher, thus being able to devote more time to music. By the age of eighteen he had joined his father in the school room, while continuing to compose and to study with the old court composer Antonio Salieri. In 1816 he moved away from home, sharing rooms with a friend and the following years found him generally in the company of friends, with an occasional resumption of teaching, an avocation for which he had no great talent, at least in the classroom.
Schubert's brief career continued in Vienna, and while there were occasional commissions and some of his works were published, there was never the opportunity of the kind of distinguished patronage that Beethoven had had and still enjoyed, nor the possibility of an official position in the musical establishment of the city. It was February 1828 before Schubert was able to have a concert devoted to his work, an event that proved both successful and profitable, but by the autumn his health had weakened, the consequence of a venereal infection contracted six years earlier. He died on 19th November.
As a composer Schubert was both precocious and prolific. Over the years he w rote some five hundred songs and a quantity of piano music and chamber music, including fifteen string quartets, with larger scale works for the theatre and for orchestra, although he never had a professional orchestra regularly available to him, as Haydn had had by the nature of his employment as a princely Kapellmeister, or as Beethoven had had through the good offices of his rich patrons.
In 1824 Schubert seemed to have recovered to some extent from the more serious effects of the illness that had kept him in hospital the previous year. He was still depressed, however, realising that he would continue to suffer the recurrent results of the infection. He resolved to work towards greater symphonic works through chamber music, and this year wrote not only the A minor Quartet and the Death and the Maiden Quartet, but also the Octet, the Grand Duo for violin and piano and the Arpeggione Sonata. In the A minor String Quartet, the first complete attempt at the form since 1816, the music is now in a mood that echoes in feeling and motif that of his setting of schiller's nostalgic poem Die Götter Griechenlands, with its thoughts of a happier, golden age in Schöne Welt, wo bist du? The first movement opens with an ominous accompanying figure from viola and cello, while the second violin weaves another accompanying pattern, to be joined by the first violin, which announces the moving principal subject, into which a shaft of sunlight breaks. The passage that leads to the serene C major second subject is strongly dramatic. It is the material of the first subject that starts the central development, and the accompanying figure of the opening, insistent throughout this section, leads back to the first subject and the recapitulation. The second movement is a set of variations on the well known dactylic Rosamunde theme, retrieved from the entr'acte to his incidental music of the previous year for Helmina von Chezy's unsuccessful drama. The theme is developed with characteristic twists of harmony and figuration in a movement that ends as gently as it had begun. The opening figure of the Minuet again recalls the opening of Schubert's setting of Schiller' s lament on the passing of the age of ancient Greece, a mood which the A major Trio lightens.
The last movement, marked Allegro moderato, provides a wealth of invention, with its cheerful principal subject and a slightly sinister second subject that varies from the key of C sharp minor to E major, with a corresponding modulation in the recapitulation.
The year 1813 brought the composition, among other things, of a Wind Octet and five completed string quartets. The last of these, written in November, was the Quartet in E f1at major, published posthumously in 1830. It was now that Schubert, at the age of sixteen, decided not to accept the scholarship offered him for further study at the Staatskonvikt and instead to embark on training as a primary school teacher. The movements of the quartet are all in the same key, the first, marked Allegro moderato and in the expected tripartite form, with a gentle hymn-like opening to its principal theme, to which the second offers a contrast of rhythm, key and mood. Unusually the Scherzo is placed second, in necessary contrast to the relatively tranquil first movement. Marked Prestissima, the movement opens with elan, the scherzo framing a C minor Trio largely sustained by a drone bass. The Adagio breathes an atmosphere of serenity and is followed by a final Allegro in opera buffa style, as instrument answers instrument, after the statement of the principal subject by the first violin.
The members of the Kodály Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the second violin Tamás Szabó, 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. 2