Composer: Franz Schubert (b. 1797 - d. 1828)
Performance date: 05/07/2016
Venue: Bantry Library
Composition Year: 1817
Recording Engineer: Richard McCullough, RTÉ lyric fm
Paul Lewis -
In 1817 Schubert composed only sixty songs. His attention
was focused elsewhere mainly on the piano sonata. By August he had completed
five and, after working on the Sixth Symphony and two concert overtures, he
wrote the B major sonata. In it Schubert establishes several of the crucial stylistic
and structural devices which would become distinguishing features of his later
sonatas; an alarmingly promiscuous use of key changes, the use of sonata form
with an extremely relaxed attitude to what were considered as some of its
defining rules, the frequent use of open octaves as a contrast to much denser
harmonic material, slow movements with serene outer sections and stormy middle
sections and finally, the incorporation, in the final two movements, of the refreshing
and relaxed atmosphere which was a feature of Schubert’s lighter music.
The first movement is both striking and bold with
an unsettling harmonic variability and a profusion of thematic material. It begins
with a loud declaration in octaves, immediately followed by a quiet response. The
rhythmic structure of this opening theme and indeed of the whole movement is
built round dotted rhythms. A more lyrical but nevertheless grander second
theme is introduced over rippling triplets in the left hand before the key signature
changes again and a more traditional second subject appears. This tender tune
is immediately developed until the end of the opening statement. The
development builds on the opening material and the triplets reappear this time in
the right hand. The recapitulation concludes the movement by using a different
but related sequence of keys.
In complete contrast to this disturbing music, the
Andante opens with a wonderful, serene tune. This theme has its own middle
section in which a semiquaver base line accompanies broken chords in the right hand.
This material forms the basis of the real middle section of the movement; a
stormy passage which soon passes and the semiquaver figures become more and
more important as the main theme is repeated and decorated. The movement
concludes with a wonderful coda based on the semi-quaver configurations and
fragments of the main melody.
The main theme of the Scherzo is first stated in
octaves before being repeated with greater harmonic and chromatic complexity.
This movement is as much a Ländler as
a Scherzo. The charmingly whimsical Trio does nothing to change that impression.
The Finale is in 3/8 time, rhythmically like galop it is usually taken at a gentle canter. It’s in sonata form
and Schubert, as usual, starts to develop his material before the proper development.
By including two contrasting themes in the second subject, Schubert gives the
impression of providing a musical fabric of endless tunes which flow to a
gentle conclusion. This is wonderful sonata is relatively unknown. It deserves
many more performances.
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