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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas, D. 575 and D. 850
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in B major, Op. 147, D. 575 Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 53, D. 850
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 Liechtental 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, 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 form new acquaintances. His meeting in 1816 with Franz von Schober allowed him to accept an invitation to live in the latters 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 schoolfriend of Mozarts 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 cause of his early death. It has been thought 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 fathers 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 19th November.
During Schuberts 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.
Schuberts early attempts at the composition of piano sonatas came in 1815, but his first complete work in the form so intimidatingly developed by Beethoven over the years was the Sonata in A minor of March 1817. Further such works followed, with a final completed Sonata in B major, D.575, the first in a full four movements, written in August of the same year and published posthumously in 1846 as Op.147. The first movement starts with a summons to attention, gently answered, before moving into G major and shifting back to E major for the second subject, followed by a closing section in the expected dominant. The opening figure, now in the minor, starts the central development, with an appropriate adjustment of keys for the final recapitulation. The E major slow movement offers an opening melody that returns in a varied form after a contrasting central section, and there is a G major Scherzo framing a D major Trio. The sonata ends with a cheerful tripartite sonata-form movement.
1818 and 1819 brought further unfinished sonatas and in 1823 came the Sonata in A minor, D.784, a three-movement work. In the spring of 1825 Schubert returned to the form once more, with an unfinished sonata in April and a completed work in A minor by the end of May. In August he composed his Sonata in D major, D.850, published the following year with a dedication to his friend, the pianist Karl Maria von Bocklet. Bocklet had settled in Vienna in 1817, first as a violinist at the Theater an der Wien, before embarking on a distinguished career as a pianist. In December 1827 he joined the violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh and the cellist Josef Linke in the first performance of Schuberts Piano Trio in E flat major, D.929, and took part in a performance of the same work at the memorial concert for Schubert given in January 1829. In late 1825 Schubert joined Vogl on a summer tour through the Salzkammergut, of which Schubert left an unfinished account. It took them, by August, to Bad Gastein, and it was there, during a stay of three weeks, that the D major Sonata was written.
The first movement of the sonata opens with forthright determination, exploring various keys in a transition that leads to a lilting second subject. The opening motif of the sonata introduces the relatively extended central development, followed by the emphatic start of the recapitulation. The gently lyrical A major second movement explores a multitude of keys in varied versions of the material, to be followed by a resolute Scherzo, framing a chordal G major Trio. The final Rondo seems to reflect the surroundings in which it was written, with a principal theme redolent of the Austrian countryside, contrasted with an intervening suggestion of contrapuntal activity and a song-like G major episode. The main theme returns in rapid variation, before the work comes to a hushed close.
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SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas, D. 575 and D. 850