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9.70164 - SCHUBERT, F.: Violin and Fortepiano Works (Complete), Vol. 1 (Ross, Cole)

Franz Schubert (17971–1828)
Sonata in D, Op.137, No.1, D384 • Sonata in A minor, Op.137, No.2, D385
Sonata in G minor, Op.137, No.3, D408 • Sonata in A, Op.post. 162, D574


The son of a schoolmaster in the Viennese suburb of Liechtenthal, Franz Schubert was raised in a musical household, initially receiving instruction on the violin and fortepiano respectively from his father and brother Ignaz. The family regularly played string quartets during his formative years, Franz taking the viola part with his brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand as violinists and his father as cellist. Another important early musical influence was Michael Holzer, organist of Liechtenthal’s parish church, who encouraged Franz but evidently gave him little actual tuition. 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 participated in general music-making, excelling 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. The musical evenings in the Schubert household gradually expanded into sessions for a string chamber orchestra, outgrowing available space and moving to the larger premises of Franz Frischling. With the addition of wind instruments the ensemble transformed into an orchestra capable of playing symphonies by Haydn and Mozart and its rehearsals were again moved, late in 1815, to the home of Otto Hatwig, where Schubert’s works were introduced. A period of sustained musical creativity 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 Schubert’s reputation as a composer grew steadily in Vienna, as well as in such provincial centres as Linz, Steyr, and Graz. By the beginning of the following year, with little hope of gaining a secure teaching position, he renounced that profession to devote himself exclusively to composition. Curiously, however, only a small proportion of his oeuvre was published during his lifetime; much of it, particularly his large-scale works, remained in manuscript and was relatively unknown until the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Schubert composed his first three violin sonatas (D.384, D.385 and D.408) in March and April 1816. Probably intended for music-making in the home (although there is no conclusive evidence of the occasions on which they were first performed), they are concise works that align themselves largely with Mozartian models. They were published posthumously by Anton Diabelli (Vienna, 1836) as ‘Three Sonatinas, Op.137’, doubtless with the aim of exploiting the lucrative amateur music market.

The Sonata No. 1 in D, D384, comprises three movements, whereas its companion works incorporate a minuet and trio in four-movement designs. It has similarities with Mozart’s Sonata in E minor, K.304, notably when the two instrumentalists announce the opening triadic Allegro theme quietly in unison/octaves. The second idea (A major) is a rhythmic motive with melodic affinities to the first. A brief development focuses on the first theme, which is subjected to various harmonic contortions before the slightly modified recapitulation. The movement concludes, as it began, with a quiet unison statement, finally punctuated by two fortissimo chords. The elegant phrases of the nostalgic, ternary Andante (A major), stated alternately by solo fortepiano and the two instruments together, are also Mozartian; but the contrasting middle section, in which the violin takes centre stage, is straight from the world of Schubertian song. The violinist weaves a counter-melody around the fortepianist’s lyrical line in the modified reprise. The finale is a light-hearted rondo with episodes in which Schubert tries out his own contrapuntal skills to pleasing effect.

The more expansive Sonata in A minor, D385, opens with the keyboard alone. Some commentators have sensed here the influence of Beethoven, notably his Piano Sonata in E major, Op.14, No.1, while others have even smelt a whiff of twelve-note music, such are the varied intervals that make up the melodic line. Two further themes are announced above a triplet background, but development of this material is minimal. The Andante, with its contrasting sonorities and tonalities, enjoys a special repose, captured also in the graceful Menuetto and Trio. The finale, occasionally robustly contrapuntal but always tuneful, may have been influenced by the equivalent movement of Mozart’s Sonata in E flat, K.380.

As with the First Sonata, the opening triadic theme of the Sonata in G minor, D408, is announced in unison by the two instruments. While eminently Mozartian (Alfred Einstein has likened it to the Allegro of K.379, in the same key), it creates an equal partnership between the instruments, the first movement opening with declamations and responses in each part. The tender Andante also features some sensitive keyboard/violin interplay and some striking moments of passion. And while the refined Menuetto is somewhat Haydnesque, the finale abounds in dramatic contrast.

Schubert turned again to the violin-fortepiano combination in 1817, composing his Sonata in A, Op.162, D574. Broader in scope than the earlier three sonatas, its lyricism and richer harmonic palette reflect his increased technical assurance and, doubtless, further Beethovenian influence. The work remained in manuscript until Diabelli published it posthumously in 1851. It opens in the fortepiano as if the beginning of one of Schubert’s songs; the violinist is the singer and melodic material is then freely exchanged by the two protagonists. A brief, yet inventive development introduces a new melody, which is essentially an ornamental variant of the first theme’s keyboard accompaniment. The recapitulation holds few surprises. The energetic E major Scherzo, launched by the fortepiano, abounds with harmonic/tonal audacity and has an excellent foil in the chromatic Trio (C major); after a dramatic silence, it returns to complete the design. The Andantino is a beautiful rondo (C major). Its lyrical refrain (violin) soon introduces an episode in the distant key of D flat major; when it returns, its melody is modified by the fortepiano. A mysterious middle episode launches an exquisite antiphonal duet (A flat major) between violin and fortepiano (right hand). When the opening refrain returns, it brings with it subtle reminiscences of that central episode and its contrasting key. The scherzo-like finale (A major) adopts a sonata form of the peculiarly Schubertian kind that has two distinct key centres in its second subject group—a richly unexpected C major for its first theme and the orthodox dominant key for its second. After a short, harmonically eventful development, the recapitulation is re-drafted so that the two keys of the second group become F major and A major, in which latter key a brief, rousing coda brings to a close Schubert’s last contribution to the violin sonata genre.

Schubert was to return to the violin/keyboard combination in October 1827, when he composed his energetic Rondo in B minor, D895, for the Bohemian violinist Josef Slavík and pianist Karl Maria Bocklet. The same duo gave the première of his Fantasie in C, D934, in Vienna on 20th January 1828, less than a year before his untimely death.

Robin Stowell

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