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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas, D. 664, D. 537 and D. 960
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster, whose path it seemed he might follow as an assistant teacher. His father had come to Vienna from his native Moravia to join his brother in the business, and reasons of domestic economy dictated that the sons of the family should follow the same calling. At home Schubert had some lessons in music from his father and from an older brother, followed by sound musical training and general education from the age of nine as a chorister of the imperial court chapel, a position that admitted him as a pupil of the Imperial and Royal Stadtkonvikt. His teachers here finally included Antonio Salieri and he profited from the particular friendship of a university student, Josef von Spaun, who had established a student orchestra that Schubert led and occasionally directed. Holidays from school allowed music-making in Schubert's own family and he played the viola in the family quartet, in which his father played the cello and two of his brothers first and second violin. By the age of thirteen Schubert was already writing music, including string quartets for performance at home and his first songs. His voice broke in 1812, but he remained a pupil of the Stadtkonvikt for another year, eventually rejecting an offered scholarship and further general education in favour of a career that allowed him more time for music. The needs of his family, however, made this dedication to composition immediately impossible, and in 1814 he embarked on a course as a primary school teacher. The following year he joined his father, although he showed no great aptitude for his new profession, which he was to practise intermittently, as need arose, for a year or so. The greater part of the remaining years of his life was devoted to music and to the company of his friends, poets, painters, musicians, members, largely, of the cultivated middle class of Vienna. In this respect his life differs markedly from that of Beethoven, who had come to Vienna with introductions to leading aristocratic patrons and who continued to enjoy their support through the vicissitudes of the first quarter of the new century.
In the winter of 1816 Schubert moved into lodgings with his friend Franz von Schober, a young man of some means, who had persuaded Schubert to abandon teaching and devote himself to music. Nine months later he had rejoined his family, resuming his task as a teacher until the following summer, when more congenial employment offered as music-master to the two young daughters of Count Johann Esterházy at his Hungarian summer residence at Zseliz, a connection continued when the family returned to Vienna for the winter season and resumed less willingly in the summer of 1824. Throughout this period Schubert continued to compose music of all kinds. His songs in particular won an audience among his friends and an association with the operatic baritone Johann Michael Vogl proved helpful to him, not only in the performance of his songs but in the establishment of some links with the theatre.
1822 brought a break in the life that Schubert had been sharing with his friends. Venereal infection and serious illness compelled him to return home to his father's house, which he became too ill, for the moment, to leave, until in May 1823 he was admitted to hospital, later enjoying a period of intermittent convalescence in the country. The shadow of death did little to stem the flow of compositions, works in which publishers now were showing an increasing interest, although never profitably enough to relieve Schubert from anxiety about money. In 1825 he took rooms in the district of Wieden, near his friend, the painter Moritz von Schwind, and he was able to enjoy the company of others of his circle in visits to the countryside. He continued to write music, as prolific as he had ever been, and 1827, in spite of ill health, was as busy a year as any. At the end of March 1828 a concert consisting entirely of his own compositions was given, with the participation of Vogl and others, to the enthusiasm of a well disposed audience, although the press had nothing to say about the event. In September, in an attempt to find a place where he might in some measure restore his health, he moved to the house of his brother Ferdinand on the outskirts of the city, but there grew increasingly ill, dying on the afternoon of 19th November.
Schubert's Sonata in A major, D. 664, published posthumously in 1829 as Opus 120, has been plausibly dated to 1819, the year of the Trout Quintet. In the summer of that year Schubert had accompanied Vogl on his annual excursion to his native Steyr. There his acquaintance with Sylvester Paumgartner led to the composition of the quintet, making use of Schubert's song Die Forelle (The Trout), that Paumgartner much admired. It has been suggested that the Sonata in A major, which reflects much the same mood of delight in the Styrian countryside, is to be identified with a sonata written for the pianist Josefine von Koller, whom he met on the occasion of this first visit to Steyr. The first movement, with its song-like principal theme, breathes the air of the country, its serenity only briefly broken in the central development. The D major Andante opens with some harmonic ambiguity, implicit in the principal theme, but any passing sadness is dispelled in the final Allegro.
1817was a year in which Schubert showed a particular interest in the sonata, writing six piano sonatas, of which two are incomplete. The same year saw the composition of the violin and piano Duo Sonata, the B fiat String Trio and some sixty songs. Written in March, the A minor Sonata is the first of the 1817 sonatas in order of composition. It opens with a phrase that is answered by upper register arpeggios, with the initial figuration providing a motif that finds a place in the transition to the subsidiary theme opening in the unexpected key of F major. The end of the exposition makes use of a rhythmic and harmonic figure that proves of use in the central development, after which the first theme re-appears in the key of D minor, with A major established by the second subject and A minor restored in the coda. The E major Allegretto has more of a song about its principal theme. Schubert's adventurous sense of harmony allows a related secondary theme in C major and the return of the opening theme in F major and further exploitation of a repeated rhythmic figure before the eventual return of the opening theme and key. An ascending A minor scale, gently answered, summons the attention at the start of the final Allegro vivace, a movement prodigal in musical ideas and leading to a final A major, stressed only in the last chord of the sonata.
The last of the 1828 sonatas, the Sonata in B flat major, D 960, opens in a manner characteristic of many of Schubert's songs and its gentle first theme dominates the extended movement. The slow movement, moving from C sharp minor to A major and to a final C sharp major has about it a beautiful serenity and is followed by a delicately graceful scherzo in B flat major, framing a solemn Trio in the tonic minor key. The final rondo starts in harmonic ambiguity, suggesting the influence of Beethoven's substituted final movement for his Opus 130 String Quartet, and exemplifying the quality of heavenly length so often cited by writers on Schubert.
The Hungarian pianist Jeno Jando has won a number of piano competitions in Hungary and abroad, including first prize in the 1973 Hungarian Piano Concours and a first prize in the chamber music category at the Sydney International Piano Competition in 1977. He has recorded for Naxos all the piano concertos and sonatas of Mozart. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.
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SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas, D. 664, D. 537 and D. 960