SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas, D. 845 and D. 568
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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in A minor, Op.42, D.845
Piano Sonata in E flat major, Op.122, D.568
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, 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 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.
In the spring of 1825 Schubert returned to the piano sonata. One of the sonatas he began at this time, the Sonata in C major, D.840, remained incomplete, as a result of apparent problems with the last movement. This was published in 1861 with explanatory additional title of Reliquie. The period was a difficult one. There had been quarrels among Schuberts friends, as a result of Schobers secret engagement to the sister of one of their number, and his own health was uncertain, but, after spending the first months of the year at home, he moved in February to take lodgings near the house of his friend, the artist Moritz von Schwind. The Sonata in A minor, D.845, was completed at this time, before the composers summer excursion in May to Steyr with Vogl. The work was published in 1826 as Opus 42, with a dedication to Beethovens pupil and patron, Archduke Rudolph, Cardinal Archbishop of Olmütz. The first movement opens with a figure that assumes further importance in the central development. There is a C major second subject and a brief excursion into C minor before the end of the exposition. The development explores other keys, before the final recapitulation. The C major slow movement is a set of five variations, with the rapid figuration of the second leading to a dramatic third variation in C minor and a fourth with rapid triplet figuration in A flat major. The original key returns in a gentler triplet rhythm final version of the theme. The Scherzo frames an F major Trio and is followed by an energetic Rondo.
The Sonata in A minor was published as Première grande Sonate, with the Sonata in D major of August 1825 issued in 1826 as Seconde grande Sonate. It is now thought that the Sonata in E flat major, D.568, a revision of the unfinished Sonata in D flat major of 1817, may be identified as the intended third of the series, revised for this purpose in 1826, to be followed by the Sonata in G major, D.894, as a fourth. The Sonata in E flat major was published posthumously in 1829 as Opus 122. The thematic material provides the basis of a generally cheerful first movement that brings moments of drama in its central development. The G minor slow movement has a second section of increased excitement, both sections returning in more elaborate form. A Menuetto with a matching A flat major dotted-rhythm Trio follows, leading to the final Allegro moderato, a sonata-form movement with a second subject in B flat minor, moving to the major in the closing section of the exposition. The development, as elsewhere in these sonatas, brings touches of Beethoven, before the return of the themes in varied recapitulation.