SCHUBERT: String Quartets Nos. 12 and 14
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Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
String Quartet in D minor D. 810 ("Deathand the Maiden")
Quartettsatz in C minor D. 703
Of the fifteen works Schubert wrote forstring quartet, seven were composed while he was at school, a chorister in theImperial Chapel and a pupil of the Staatskonvikt and five of these during hislast year there. Born in Vienna in 1797, the son and nephew of schoolmasterswho had moved to the city from Moravia, he had every encouragement to musicalactivity at home. His father played the cello, his eldest brother Ignaz, borntwo months after his parents' marriage, the violin, the instrument ofFerdinand, three years Franz Schubert's senior, while the composer played theviola. The family quartet was in later years to be augmented to make possiblethe playing of works of more ambitious dimensions. At school Schubert playedthe violin in the school orchestra, which he was later to lead, and was able toembark on lessons from the Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose fiftiethyear in Vienna he was to join in celebrating in 1816.
In 1812, the year in which his mother died,Schubert's voice broke. The following year brought the re-marriage of hisfather and the chance of a scholarship to continue his schooling. Schubertchose to reject this, and in 1814 he entered the Normal School of St. Anna totrain as a teacher, preparation for a position as assistant to his father. As ateacher, however, he was obviously ineffective, although his year of duty athis father's school certainly allowed him time for composition.
Schubert's subsequent life was spent stilllargely in Vienna. He shared rooms with various friends, at times returning tohis father's house, since family ties remained strong. His circle of friends,strong advocates of his music, included musical amateurs, poets, painters and,among musicians, the singer Michael Vogl, who retired from the Court Opera in1822 and proved a strong influence. There were frequent musical evenings atwhich Schubert's music was performed, but never any official position and neverthe kind of opportunity for larger scale composition that such a position mighthave given.
The last years of Schubert's life wereclouded by ill health and the idea of death was a familiar one. His mother,after all, had born fourteen children, of which only five survived, a notuncommon statistical proportion at the time. For his contemporaries the poetand writer Matthias Claudius came to terms with the spectre, nick-named by him"Freund Hein". Death, even in the poem "Der Tod und dasMadchen", is not so much a "wilder Knochenmann", a cruel man ofbones, as a friend offering peace and rest. Schubert's setting of the poem wasmade in 1817. His String Quartet in D minor was written seven years later, inMarch, 1824, before a happy summer, to be spent again at Zseliz as tutor to thedaughters of Count Johann Karl Esterhazy. This is, nevertheless, a time inSchubert's Life in which illness and thoughts of death were to occupy his mind.
The D minor Quartet has death at its heart.
The first movement opens with a call to our attention in a strongly markedfirst subject, to be contrasted with a more yielding lyrical second subject.
This is followed by a slow movement that has given the quartet its title. It isin the form of a theme and five variations, the former taken from Schubert'ssetting of the poem by Matthias Claudius, "Der Tod und das Madchen",in which the second section provides apt music and characteristic rhythm forthe words of Death himself.
The scherzo moves, in its companion trio,into wistful happiness, and leads to a final movement in which some havedetected a Dance of Death, its ominous urgency delayed briefly by an emphaticsecond subject. The four movements, unified in mood and intention, form a workof a very different kind from, for example, the Trout Quintet, in which theworld is one of greater peace and serenity. In the D minor Quartet tragedy isnear, whatever comfort Freund Hein may have to offer to the philosophical.
The so-called Quartettsatz, a single Allegromovement in C minor, was written in December, 1820. Sketches exist for theopening of a second, slow movement, but the existing first movement provesremarkable enough in itself, with its chromatic and agitated first subject andlilting A flat second subject. The work, significant even in its incompleteform, belongs rather to the world of the three last quartets than to the morecomfortable domestic setting of the earlier quartets, the last of which hadbeen composed in 1816. It marks, in any case, the beginning of a period inSchubert's life in which his music was becoming known to a wider public.
The members of the Kodaly Quartet weretrained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the secondviolin Tamas Szabo, viola-player Gabor Fias and cellist Janos Devich, wereformerly in the Sebestyen Quartet, which was awarded the jury's special diplomaat the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won first prize at the1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinistAttila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodaly Quartet, a titleadopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education.
The Kodaly Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the Soviet Unionand in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concerthall and on television and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings ofstring quartets by Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.