SCHUBERT: String Quartet No. 15 / Five German Dances, D. 90 (Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.557125)
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Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 15 in G major Five German Dances
Franz Schubert was born in 1797, the son of a Viennaschoolmaster, and had his education as a chorister of theImperial Chapel at the Stadtkonvikt. Both at school andat home he had an active musical life as a player and asa composer, and when his voice broke and he wasoffered the means to continue his academic education,he decided, instead, to train as a teacher, thus being ableto devote more time to music. By the age of eighteen hehad joined his father in the schoolroom, whilecontinuing to compose and to study with the old CourtKapellmeister Antonio Salieri. In 1816 he moved awayfrom home, lodging with his new friend, Franz vonSchober, thus released for the moment from thedrudgery of teaching. The following years found himgenerally in the company of friends, with an occasionalreturn to the schoolroom, when necessity dictated,showing there no great talent or interest in his task.
Schubert's brief career continued in Vienna andwhile there were occasional commissions and some ofhis works were published, there was never theopportunity for the kind of distinguished patronage thatBeethoven had had and still enjoyed, nor the possibilityof an official position in the musical establishment of thecity. It was February 1828 before Schubert was able totake the risk of a concert devoted to his work, an eventthat proved both successful and profitable, but by theautumn his health had weakened, the consequence of avenereal infection contracted six years earlier. He diedon 19th November.
As a composer Schubert was both precocious andprolific. Over the years he wrote some five hundredsongs and a quantity of piano and chamber music,including fifteen string quartets, with larger scale worksfor the theatre and for orchestra, although he never hada professional orchestra regularly available to him, asHaydn had had by the nature of his employment as aprincely Kapellmeister, or as Beethoven had through thegood offices of his rich patrons. He was able to hear hisorchestral compositions in performances by an ensemblethat had developed over the years from the Schubertfamily string quartet, while chamber music on occasionsreceived professional attention, notably fromSchuppanzigh and his colleagues. Schubert himself wasboth pianist and string-player and as a boy had playedthe viola in the family quartet, where his father playedthe cello and his older brothers the violin. The languageof the classical string quartet had long been familiar tohim.
The present release includes the last of Schubert'squartets and five Deutsche. The Quartet in G major,Op. 161, was written during the last ten days of June in1826 and published posthumously in 1851. 1826 hadbrought Schubert some success, arrangements withpublishers and a favourable review of his Piano Sonatain A minor, Op. 42, in the Leipzig Allgemeinemusikalische Zeitung on 1st March. The death of Salieriin 1825 and that of the court organist Vori%ek had madechanges in the Court Chapel possible. Schubert hadshown no interest in the position of court organist, buton 7th April he submitted an application for the moreambitious position of Vice-Hofkapellmeister. In hisapplication he set down his qualifications for the post,supporting his petition with a recommendation from histeacher Salieri, given him in 1819. In the event he wasshort-listed, but early in the following year the placewent to Josef Weigl, for the moment to receive no salaryadditional to that he already received as conductor of theCourt Theatre.
As 1826 went on Schubert experienced changes inmood. His health remained uncertain, and there hadbeen some disruption in his social circle. Thecomposition of a new opera had been discussed and hisfriend Bauernfeld, on a touring holiday in the provinces,was able to provide him with a libretto, Der Graf vonGleichen, which Schubert resolved to set, although thebigamous relationships of the principal character soonled to the work's rejection by the censors. The singerMichael Vogl, newly married in June, at the age of 58,urged application to the Karntnertor Theatre as an operacoach, but this came to nothing. Meanwhile Schubert'sfriend Schober was suffering from his enforced move, inan uneasy menage with his mother, to Wahring and hisobligation now to earn a living. By July Schubert wasanswering Bauernfeld's invitations for him to join himand their friend Ferdinand von Mayerhofer withcomplaints that he had no money to go anywhere, thatSchwind was at rock-bottom over his affair with NettiHonig, Schober had turned businessman, and Vogl hadmarried.
In spite of all this, Schubert could still work. Afterthe completion of his new string quartet, he wrote threefamous Shakespeare settings, and the summer broughtfurther piano duets, for which there was a continuingmarket. The first movement of the Quartet in G major,a substantial work, opens with some ambiguity, itsinitial G major quickly shifting to G minor. A violinmelody is echoed by the cello, with tremoloaccompaniment. The gentle second subject, in acharacteristic rhythm and approached through the key ofF sharp major, is in clear contrast. These elements areexplored in the central development, after which therecapitulation starts by reversing the original majorminorharmonies of the opening, to G minorimmediately followed by G major, proceeding to anumber of changes in the detail and figuration of whatfollows. The movement ends with a reiteration of Gmajor. The E minor slow movement opens with apoignant cello melody. There is a more turbulent middlesection with dotted rhythms, rushing scales and dramatictremolo, after which the principal melody returns in Bminor and in canon between cello and second violin,followed by a new G major melody, heard from the firstviolin and cello. This continues in a new key, dividedand then in canon between the two instruments. Themain theme returns, to end in E major. The B minorScherzo, with its own subtle modulations, frames a Gmajor Trio in which the Landler melody is first given tothe cello. The last movement, impelled forward by itstarantella rhythm, is a rondo, its main theme againveering between G major and G minor, while other keysare explored in its contrasting episodes.
The five Deutsche, D. 90, are dated 19th November1813, together with a similar number of Minuets. Nowsixteen, his voice having broken, Schubert was in thisyear offered a scholarship to continue his academicstudies, rejecting it in favour of training as a teacher, acourse on which he embarked the following year. It wasthe year of his father's second marriage and a year thatbrought a number of new string quartets. The GermanDances were intended for the small ensemble that wasdeveloping around the Schubert family quartet, a groupsoon to need larger premises for its meetings. The firstdance, in C major, has two trios, in A minor and C majorrespectively, the second of which includes a solo for theviola, Schubert's instrument in the family ensemble. Thesecond dance, in G major, with trios in that key and in Eminor, is followed by a dance in D major with acharacteristic trio in the same key. The fourth of the set,in F major, has no trio, and is followed by a C majordance, with trios in the same key, both of them providingthe viola with an active accompanying part. The Codafinally resolves matters over a sustained open-stringbottom C from the cello, before the first violin vanishesinto the heights.Keith Anderson