Schubert wrote sixteen string quartets, twelve of them when he was still in his teens. He composed them, often at great speed, for the family quartet. His brother Ferdinand wrote about this after Schubert’s early death: His father and older brothers took extreme pleasure in playing quartets with him. This occurred mostly during the vacation months [Schubert’s father was a teacher, Schubert himself boarded at the Imperial and Royal Seminary until his voice broke in 1812]. In these quartets Franz always played viola, his brother Ignaz second violin, Ferdinand first violin and Papa violoncello. Schubert was offered an endowment to stay on at the Seminary, which he rejected as he could not accept the requirement to focus his studies on non-musical subjects. So he returned to live at home and continued his regular education at the High School while also getting composition lessons from Anton Salieri, Mozart’s famous adversary. It was during this period, 1813-14, that he wrote half of his early quartets.
Schubert left large numbers of incomplete or unfinished scores and this quartet is one of them, for the middle movements are missing. We are left with the opening Allegro and a rousing closing Finale. Apparently the autograph score has many corrections, showing that he struggled with the final form of the first movement, so it could be possible that this was one of his many unfinished works. What we have here is Schubert setting out to master the techniques of Mozart and Haydn, without taking any of the bold steps forward that we find a few years later. The style of the first movement, as in many of these early quartets, is quasi-orchestral and full of drama; one could easily think up an operatic plot to put alongside this score. The last movement has all the energy and some of the wit of a Haydn finale. We will have to imagine the missing middle movements.