About this Recording
9.70182 - SCHUBERT, F.: Violin and Fortepiano Works (Complete), Vol. 2 (Ross, Cole)
English 

Franz Schubert (1797–1828)
Rondo in B minor, Op. 70, D.895
Fantasie in C, Op. posth. 159, D.934
Introduction and Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’, Op. posth. 160, D.802

 

The son of a schoolmaster in the Viennese suburb of Liechtenthal, Franz Schubert was raised in a musical household. He initially received instruction on the violin and fortepiano respectively from his father and brother Ignaz, and the family regularly played string quartets during his formative years. The local organist Michael Holzer was another important early musical influence. In 1808 Antonio Salieri accepted Franz as a choirboy in the Imperial Court Chapel, allowing him a free privileged education at the Kaiserlich-königliches Stadtkonvikt. Here he received musical instruction, absorbed the rich tradition of church choral singing, attended some of the finest opera in Europe and excelled in the student orchestra as both a violinist and a conductor. This active musical environment fuelled his enthusiasm for composition and initiated some youthful quartets and symphonies based on the models of Haydn and Mozart.

Schubert left the choir and the Stadtkonvikt in 1813; he trained for and entered the teaching profession as assistant to his father, participating in amateur music-making and composing in his spare time. In a period of sustained musical creativity Schubert produced, amongst other works, five symphonies, four Masses, three string quartets, three piano sonatas, six operas, and some 300 or more songs; and from the autumn of 1816 his reputation as a composer grew steadily in Vienna, as well as in provincial centres such as Linz, Steyr, and Graz. By the beginning of the following year he had renounced the teaching profession to devote himself exclusively to composition. He spent most of his short life in Vienna, but he never held any position in the musical establishment or attracted substantial patronage. His final years were clouded by illness resulting from a syphilitic infection. It was with his songs, above all, that Schubert won a lasting reputation, but his gift for melodic invention is reflected throughout his oeuvre, not least in his works for violin and fortepiano.

Following the composition of his three Sonatas D.384, D.385 and D.408 (1816), and his Duo Op. posth. 162, D.574 (1817), approximately nine years elapsed before Schubert turned again to the violin-fortepiano combination, writing two works in a striking, bravura style: the Rondo in B minor, Op.70, D.895 (1826) and the Fantasie in C, Op. posth. 159, D.934 (1827). The stimulus came from the young Czech virtuoso violinist Joseph Slavík (1806–33), later hailed by Chopin as ‘a second Paganini’, who arrived in Vienna in 1826. Early in 1827, Slavík and Schubert’s friend, Karl Maria von Bocklet, performed the Rondo at the home of the publisher Domenico Artaria, who issued it in that same year as Rondeau brillant, Op. 70. A powerful, extrovert work, its grand proportions emanate from its abundance of ideas and their extended working out. Its serious Andante introduction provides the source for several of the ideas that emerge in the ensuing rondo (Allegro). It moves from an imposing declamation by the two players through a tense, emotionally charged lyrical episode to a dramatic development of the opening, before leading organically into the rondo. The latter’s opening gesture, a play on B and C sharp that will recur several times, is derived from the violin/piano (right-hand) imitation that brings the Andante to an unresolved close. It blossoms into a ‘movement’ of A-B-A-C-A design, with a coda based on the music of the second (B) section. Its related thematic material consists of three principal elements: a dashing Hungarian tune, a contrasting lyrical motif and a trumpet-like variant of the Hungarian tune. This material reappears, re-shaped, in the middle of the movement and again at the end. The two episodes are of greater length and broader tonal aspiration; the B section is bravura and ornamental, while the C section, peppered with dotted rhythms, illustrates Schubert’s lyrical vein.

Schubert’s Fantasie D.934 was composed in December 1827 and first performed by Slavík and Bocklet on 20 January 1828. An elaborate, virtuoso work in one movement, its various sections are interlinked in a complex pattern of contrasting moods. Schubert evidently aimed to achieve an effect of thematic unity by overt cross-reference, while the violinist dazzles with bravura display; such a juxtaposition of depressive melancholy and ostentatious virtuosity is typical of his spiritual state during his last years. The magical opening Andante molto (C major) features a sustained violin line above a variety of accompanying piano figuration, ranging from widely-spaced tremolos to a characteristic trill motif. After an ad libitum passage for each protagonist, the ensuing Allegretto (A minor and major, modulating to A flat major) adopts jaunty, brusque Hungarian idioms. The kernel of the work is a set of variations on an Andantino theme (A flat major) derived from Schubert’s own Rückert song ‘Sei mir gegrüsst’ (D.741, 1821). Following the third variation, a transition passage based on the song theme leads to a modified, abbreviated reprise of the opening Andante molto (C major). Despite its virtuosity and jaunty disguise, the ensuing march-like Allegro vivace (C major and A major) is still recognisable as another variation of the song melody. Further, the Allegretto (A flat major) that follows it is an elaborated pianissimo reminiscence of the modified song theme, while the Presto (C major) relates to the previous Allegro vivace and serves as a brilliant coda. The work suffered a mixed reception at its première, but many critics have since praised the strength and originality of its melodic, harmonic and bravura style.

Schubert’s Introduction and Variations on ‘Trockne Blumen’, Op. posth. 160, D.802, was originally composed for flute and piano and is his only work for that medium. Believed to have been written for the virtuoso flautist Ferdinand Bogner (although the latter appears to have snubbed the work at a memorial concert for the composer), Schubert’s variation set is based on the melody of the climactic eighteenth song in his cycle Die schöne Müllerin (The Fair Maid of the Mill, 1823) and dates from January 1824. In instrumental treatments of his songs, Schubert generally adhered to the mood of the original; but in these variations he maintains the intensity of the original song only in the melancholy introduction (Andante, 4/4), in which repeated reference is made to the three-note motive to which the words ‘wovon so nass?’ (‘why so moist?’) are set, and the statement of the theme itself (Andantino, 2/4). The variations make little reference to the song’s tortured emotions and soon reflect the high spirits of virtuoso play between the two instruments.

The theme, most of whose phrases are repeated, is broadly similar to the song melody but incorporates some melodic embellishments appropriate to its instrumental guise. It starts in E minor and closes in E major, a tonal pattern that is followed in the first five variations, which are high in technical demand. The sixth variation (Allegro moderato) transforms the theme into triple metre (3/8); it firmly adopts E major throughout, as do the seventh variation (4/4), an extended, triumphal march-like Allegro version of the theme, and the expansive coda. Much of the tension and drama of the original song is lost. Contrary to the suicidal sentiments of Wilhelm Müller’s poem, the mood has changed dramatically from poignant melancholy to one of triumphant affirmation. The withered flowers have bloomed again without the necessity of the grave.


Robin Stowell


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