Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Franz Schubert

In 1827, Schubert wrote two sets of Impromptus, D. 899 and D. 935, each consisting of four pieces. Both collections have become staples in the keyboard repertory and are recognized as among the composer's greatest piano works. Much less well-known are these three compositions, often referred to in catalogs as the Drei Klavierstücke, which Schubert apparently intended to be part of yet another group of Impromptus. When they were completed, the composer left only tempo markings for titles. Thus, the three are titled as follows: Allegro assai (E flat minor); Allegretto (E flat major); Allegro (C major). What is difficult to explain about these pieces is their almost total neglect by pianists throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first centuries. Their resultant lack of popularity among the public is hardly puzzling, but the relatively low opinion of them held by many musicologists is equally difficult to account for.

Most who examine these works will find they are examples of undeniably high art in the composer's keyboard output. The first two are in the rondo form of ABACA, while in the last, Schubert uses the more standard ternary form of ABA. Some musicologists have regarded the first piece primarily as a Scherzo with two trios. However one views its form, the music itself is rhythmic and lively in its main thematic material, then it turns richly Romantic in the long, slow section. After the return of the opening material, another theme is heard, also slow in contrast to the first subject and somewhat ponderous, too. After a reprise of the main themes, the piece ends.

The second item here begins in a serene, subdued mood, with the Allegretto marking sounding more like a Moderato. The theme is lovely, if somewhat wistful. Succeeding sections are lively by contrast, and offer much color and playfulness. Thus, the scheme Schubert uses here is opposite that in the first piece, with the outer sections essentially slow and the inner ones fast or lively. Overall, though, the piece serves the function of a slow movement in the set.

The third entry begins with robust good cheer, again the composer offering rhythmic drive and much color. Although the second subject is less driven and somewhat subdued, it is still lively and bright. While this is a well-crafted work, it is probably the least ambitious of the three in terms of individuality and formal complexity.

It would be difficult to compare the Drei Klavierstücke with its cousins, the two sets of Impromptus, from 1827. From a purely artistic point of view, however, all three collections can be ranked as major endeavors, with this group of three perhaps a mere rung below the other pair.

This collection was first published in 1868, at a time when the rediscovery of Schubert was beginning to take wing, owing to the efforts of English musicologist George Grove, who became a strong advocate of his music beginning in 1856.