Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
String Quartet No. 6 in D major String Quartet No. 11 in Emajor String Quartet No.2 in C major
Franz Schubert was born in 1797, the son of a Viennaschoolmaster, and had his education as a chorister of the Imperial Chapel atthe Staatskonvikt. Both at school and at home he had an active musical life asa player and as a composer, and when his voice broke and he was offered themeans to continue his academic education, he decided instead to train as ateacher, thus being able to devote more time to music. By the age of eighteenhe had joined his father in the schoolroom, while continuing to compose and tostudy with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri. In 1816 he moved awayfrom home, lodging with his new friend, Franz von Schober, thus released forthe moment from the drudgery of teaching. The following years found himgenerally in the company of friends, with an occasional return to theschoolroom when necessity dictated, showing there no great talent or interestin his task.
Schubert's brief career continued in Vienna and while therewere occasional commissions and some of his works were published, there wasnever the opportunity for the kind of distinguished patronage that Beethovenhad had and still enjoyed, nor the possibility of an official position in themusical establishment of the city. It was February 1828 before Schubert was ableto take the risk of a concert devoted to his work, an event that proved bothsuccessful and profitable, but by the autumn his health had weakened, theconsequence of a venereal infection contracted six years earlier. He died on19th November.
As a composer Schubert was both precocious and prolific.Over the years he wrote some five hundred songs and a quantity of piano andchamber music, including fifteen string quartets, with larger scale works forthe theatre and for orchestra, although he never had a professional orchestraregularly available to him, as Haydn had had by the nature of his employment asa princely Kapellmeister, or as Beethoven had through the good offices of hisrich patrons. He was able to hear his orchestral compositions in performancesby an ensemble that had developed over the years from the Schubert familystring quartet, while chamber music on occasions received professionalattention, notably from Schuppanzigh and his colleagues. Schubert himself wasboth pianist and string-player and as a boy had played the viola in the familyquartet, where his father played the cello and his older brothers the violin.The language of the classical string quartet had long been familiar to him.
The composition of the String Quartet in D major, D.74, wasseemingly started on 22nd August 1813 and completed in the following month,during which he composed his cantata for his father's name-day, an event forwhich the quartet was also intended. It was in September that he was offeredthe scholarship that would have allowed him to continue his academic education,an offer eventually rejected. The first subject of the opening movement isstated by the first violin over a sustained cello pedal note, presumablydesigned for his father to play. There is an equally cheerful second subject,accompanied principally by the second violin and viola. The central developmentfinds a place for a further derivative melody, and the first subject returns inrecapitulation in the dominant, with the secondary theme in G. The third themereturns in D major, leading to the closing section of the movement. The G majorAndante starts with a theme of gentle charm, after which a transition leads tomore poignant material, before the return of the principal theme. The originalkey returns in the Menuetto, framing a Trio in which the cello has little toadd. The final Allegro opens with the first introducing a melody over a runningsecond violin part which is later taken up by the viola. A second song-liketheme is introduced and the material is developed before a return of the firstsubject in the dominant key and of the second, duly restored to D major, beforethe mounting excitement of the final section.
Schubert wrote his String Quartet in E major, D.353, in1816. It was published in 1840 as Op.125, No.2. 1816 brought an unsuccessfulapplication for a position as a teacher at Laibach, an end of a romance withTherese Grob, the daughter of family neighbours, and a move away from home andits duties to Schober's rooms in the city. It also saw the composition of somehundred songs, two more symphonies, and an attempted opera that remainedunfinished. It was once thought the quartet was a later work, although itactually belongs to the group of those early quartets written at home at hisfather's. The first movement, marked Allegro con fuoco, shows immediate signsof greater maturity, while still under the strong influence of Mozart. Theexposition, which is repeated, is followed by the expected central developmentof the thematic material before the recapitulation. The A major Andante againhas a song-like principal theme, ornamented in what follows, with a shift to Cmajor, before returning in the original key, with a varied accompaniment. Thereis a further transformation, before the theme returns for the last time in itsoriginal form. The E major Menuetto frames a C major Trio, and the final Rondo,like the other movements, finds room for modestly contrapuntal exploration ofthe material, as the main theme returns, a framework for contrasting episodes.
The String Quartet in C major, D.32, was finally reassembledin 1954, after an earlier existence that included only the present firstmovement and the Menuetto. It was written in September and October 1812, theyear in which Schubert's mother died and in which his voice broke, bringing anend to his service as a chorister. A characteristic rhythmic figure introducesthe quartet, forming part of the first subject and a secondary F major theme.There are unexpected moments, not least the sudden plucked notes that precedethe closing section. The minor key Andante has a gentle melancholy about it,and the Menuetto, with its lilting F major Trio dispels any sadness. Thequartet ends with a dramatic Allegro con spirito which seems thematicallyconnected with what has gone before, particularly in its use of figures inunison and of a familiar, menacing semitone figure, part of current musicallanguage.