Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Franz Schubert

This is Schubert's penultimate piano sonata, written in September 1828 -- about three months before his death. It is one of three that he wrote after the death of Beethoven (March 19, 1827), whose funeral he attended with Hummel. The passing of this great master was an important event in the life of Schubert, for though mourned the loss of the musician he greatly admired, he also perhaps felt somewhat liberated from the older composer's dominance. Appropriately, each of these last three piano sonatas contain stylistic nods to Beethoven; in the case of this A major sonata, the Rondo is based on the finale (also a Rondo) of Beethoven's Sonata No. 16 in G major.

The work opens with dramatic, stately chords which yield to gentler music, using the same material. The second subject is particularly lovely in its lyrical warmth and passion. The development offers both playfulness and tension, and the coda is grand and complex.

Many take the view that the ensuing Andantino, though it is not the longest or grandest of the four panels here, is the most profound. Its mesmerizing main theme is dreamy and mysterious, but often seeming on the verge of erupting into a storm. The second subject introduces a great deal of tension, eventually leading to a dramatic climax. This movement seems to pit serenity and violence, or even reason and madness, against one another.

The Scherzo is delightful in its lightness and good spirits. Yet for all the effervescence here, there is considerable craftsmanship: the arpeggiated chords appearing at the outset are a variant of the somewhat sinister ones at the end of the Andantino. The finale, as mentioned above, pays tribute to Beethoven; yet, the only truly imitative element is Schubert's borrowing of a theme from the slow movement of his own A minor Piano Sonata, D. 537.

This is one of Schubert's most popular piano sonatas, enjoying currency on both the recital stage and in the recording studio. Ironically, the composer could not get this masterpiece published in the remaining months of his life. It would be published in 1839, though his reputation would not begin to grow appreciably until after 1856, when he was discovered and championed by English musicologist, George Grove.