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8.550260 - SCHUBERT: Impromptus (Complete)
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Franz Schubert was born in Vienna in 1797, the son of a schoolmaster who had followed his brother to the Imperial capital from his native Moravia. Descended on his mother's side from Silesian stock, Schubert was as Viennese in language and outlook as any other inhabitant of the city, the cultural strength of which lay in its very mixture of races.
Schubert's family showed considerable musical enthusiasm, his father evidently the least proficient member of the family string quartet, in which he played the cello. Schubert himself, like Mozart before him, played the violin and viola, and was a proficient enough keyboard-player, if no great virtuoso. His musical and general education was at the Staatskonvikt, an institution he attended as a member of the choir of the Imperial Chapel directed by the Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, his composition teacher. In 1812, when his voice broke, he left the choir and rather than continue an education that would have distracted him from music he chose in 1814 to embark on a course of teacher training, joining his father in the family business as an assistant teacher in the following year.
During these early years Schubert had shown considerable musical precocity. His first surviving compositions date from 1810 and by the following year he had embarked on the writing of the first of the many song settings in which his particular genius in melodic invention is shown. 1811 brought his first attempt at opera, a medium in which he never achieved any particular distinction, and his ambitious attempts at other forms of vocal and instrumental music. The following years brought a flood of music of all kinds so that by the end of the year in which he completed his formal education he had already written, among other things, three symphonies, a dozen or so string quartets and some fifty songs.
As a school-teacher Schubert showed little ability or interest and in 1816 he gave up the attempt, living thereafter intermittently with various friends, busy as a composer and as an important figure in his own circle, but never enjoying any official position as a musician. His last years were darkened by illness of syphilitic origin that first made itself known in 1823, its predictable and fatal progress awakening immediate fears for his life. He died in 1828, the year of the first public concert dedicated to his music, at a time when publishers were showing an increased interest in his work.
The title Impromptu seems entirely typical of the careless rapture associated popularly with Romanticism. Suggesting improvisation or, at least, sudden inspiration, the word made its first musical appearance in 1822 with a set of six Impromptus by the Bohemian composer Jan Vaclav Vorisek, a piano pupil of Hummel, composition pupil of the influential Prague composer Tomasek, and from 1818 conductor of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde. In the same year another composer of Bohemian origin, Marschner, wrote a set of Impromptus, based on a theme by his pianist wife. Of Schubert's eight Impromptus the first four were so named by his publisher, Tobias Haslinger. The first two of the set appeared as part of Opus 90 in 1827, the second pair, Opus 90 Nos.3 and 4, only in 1857. The second group of Impromptus, written in December 1827, was clearly intended as a continuation of the first. These were published in 1839 and were thought by Schumann to form a four-movement piano sonata, a conclusion he reached because of the choice of related keys. It might be added that Schubert's Sonata in G major, D894, had been issued by Haslinger as separate pieces, each under its own title, a form that might have seemed more in keeping with the spirit of the time.
The C minor Impromptu opens dramatically and is based on a single theme, related, as so often in Schubert's work, to a song. The second, in E flat, is brilliant, but with the kind of technical demands that deterred Schott's Paris branch from publishing the second group of Impromptus. For the French amateur market, at least, pieces had to be brilliant and easy. The G flat Impromptu is full of feeling, in a mood that Chopin was to develop, and the final A flat Impromptu of the set, with its C sharp minor Trio section, is as harmonically adventurous as anything Schubert wrote.
The second group of Impromptus opens with an F minor movement which Schumann chose to regard as a sonata first movement, although its central section, as Schumann admits, is unusual. The second Impromptu, in the relative major key of A flat major, Schumann describes as contemplative, while rejecting the third, the most familiar to us of all, for w hat he considers an undistinguished theme - the Rosamunde theme of the famous entr'acte and A minor Quartet - and moderately or completely undistinguished variations. This Schumann would omit from his hypothetical sonata, allowing it to end with the fourth Impromptu, marked Allegro scherzando and certainly acceptable as an example of a final Rondo.
He is currently engaged in a project to record all Mozart's piano concertos for Naxos. Other recordings for the Naxos label include the concertos of Grieg and Schumann as well as Rachmaninov's Second Concerto and Paganini Rhapsody and Beethoven's complete piano sonatas.