About this Recording
8.557125 - SCHUBERT: String Quartets (Complete), Vol. 6
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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 Vienna schoolmaster, and had his education as a chorister of the Imperial Chapel at the Stadtkonvikt. Both at school and at home he had an active musical life as a player and as a composer, and when his voice broke and he was offered the means to continue his academic education, he decided, instead, to train as a teacher, thus being able to devote more time to music. By the age of eighteen he had joined his father in the schoolroom, while continuing to compose and to study with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri. In 1816 he moved away from home, lodging with his new friend, Franz von Schober, thus released for the moment from the drudgery of teaching. The following years found him generally in the company of friends, with an occasional return to the schoolroom, when necessity dictated, showing there no great talent or interest in his task.

Schubert’s brief career continued in Vienna and while there were occasional commissions and some of his works were published, there was never the opportunity for the kind of distinguished patronage that Beethoven had had and still enjoyed, nor the possibility of an official position in the musical establishment of the city. It was February 1828 before Schubert was able to take the risk of a concert devoted to his work, an event that proved both successful and profitable, but by the autumn his health had weakened, the consequence of a venereal infection contracted six years earlier. He died on 19th November.

As a composer Schubert was both precocious and prolific. Over the years he wrote some five hundred songs and a quantity of piano and chamber music, including fifteen string quartets, with larger scale works for the theatre and for orchestra, although he never had a professional orchestra regularly available to him, as Haydn had had by the nature of his employment as a princely Kapellmeister, or as Beethoven had through the good offices of his rich patrons. He was able to hear his orchestral compositions in performances by an ensemble that had developed over the years from the Schubert family string quartet, while chamber music on occasions received professional attention, notably from Schuppanzigh and his colleagues. Schubert himself was both pianist and string-player and as a boy had played the viola in the family quartet, 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 present release includes the last of Schubert’s quartets and five Deutsche. The Quartet in G major, Op. 161, was written during the last ten days of June in 1826 and published posthumously in 1851. 1826 had brought Schubert some success, arrangements with publishers and a favourable review of his Piano Sonata in A minor, Op. 42, in the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung on 1st March. The death of Salieri in 1825 and that of the court organist Vori‰ek had made changes in the Court Chapel possible. Schubert had shown no interest in the position of court organist, but on 7th April he submitted an application for the more ambitious position of Vice-Hofkapellmeister. In his application he set down his qualifications for the post, supporting his petition with a recommendation from his teacher Salieri, given him in 1819. In the event he was short-listed, but early in the following year the place went to Josef Weigl, for the moment to receive no salary additional to that he already received as conductor of the Court Theatre.

As 1826 went on Schubert experienced changes in mood. His health remained uncertain, and there had been some disruption in his social circle. The composition of a new opera had been discussed and his friend Bauernfeld, on a touring holiday in the provinces, was able to provide him with a libretto, Der Graf von Gleichen, which Schubert resolved to set, although the bigamous relationships of the principal character soon led to the work’s rejection by the censors. The singer Michael Vogl, newly married in June, at the age of 58, urged application to the Kärntnertor Theatre as an opera coach, but this came to nothing. Meanwhile Schubert’s friend Schober was suffering from his enforced move, in an uneasy ménage with his mother, to Währing and his obligation now to earn a living. By July Schubert was answering Bauernfeld’s invitations for him to join him and their friend Ferdinand von Mayerhofer with complaints that he had no money to go anywhere, that Schwind was at rock-bottom over his affair with Netti Hönig, Schober had turned businessman, and Vogl had married.

In spite of all this, Schubert could still work. After the completion of his new string quartet, he wrote three famous Shakespeare settings, and the summer brought further piano duets, for which there was a continuing market. The first movement of the Quartet in G major, a substantial work, opens with some ambiguity, its initial G major quickly shifting to G minor. A violin melody is echoed by the cello, with tremolo accompaniment. The gentle second subject, in a characteristic rhythm and approached through the key of F sharp major, is in clear contrast. These elements are explored in the central development, after which the recapitulation starts by reversing the original majorminor harmonies of the opening, to G minor immediately followed by G major, proceeding to a number of changes in the detail and figuration of what follows. The movement ends with a reiteration of G major. The E minor slow movement opens with a poignant cello melody. There is a more turbulent middle section with dotted rhythms, rushing scales and dramatic tremolo, after which the principal melody returns in B minor and in canon between cello and second violin, followed by a new G major melody, heard from the first violin and cello. This continues in a new key, divided and then in canon between the two instruments. The main theme returns, to end in E major. The B minor Scherzo, with its own subtle modulations, frames a G major Trio in which the Ländler melody is first given to the cello. The last movement, impelled forward by its tarantella rhythm, is a rondo, its main theme again veering between G major and G minor, while other keys are explored in its contrasting episodes.

The five Deutsche, D. 90, are dated 19th November 1813, together with a similar number of Minuets. Now sixteen, his voice having broken, Schubert was in this year offered a scholarship to continue his academic studies, rejecting it in favour of training as a teacher, a course on which he embarked the following year. It was the year of his father’s second marriage and a year that brought a number of new string quartets. The German Dances were intended for the small ensemble that was developing around the Schubert family quartet, a group soon to need larger premises for its meetings. The first dance, in C major, has two trios, in A minor and C major respectively, the second of which includes a solo for the viola, Schubert’s instrument in the family ensemble. The second dance, in G major, with trios in that key and in E minor, is followed by a dance in D major with a characteristic trio in the same key. The fourth of the set, in F major, has no trio, and is followed by a C major dance, with trios in the same key, both of them providing the viola with an active accompanying part. The Coda finally resolves matters over a sustained open-string bottom C from the cello, before the first violin vanishes into the heights.

Keith Anderson

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