String Quartet in G major D.887

Composer: Franz Schubert (b. 1797 - d. 1828)
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Composer: Franz Schubert (b. 1797 - d. 1828)

Performance date: 29/06/2013

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1826

Duration: 00:46:34

Recording Engineer: Damian Chennells, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Cuarteto Casals (Abel Tomás Realp, Vera Martinez Mehner [violins], Jonathan Brown [viola], Arnau Tomás Realp [cello]) - [quartet]

This extraordinary
quartet stands at the very pinnacle of the repertoire alongside Beethoven’s C
sharp minor that was composed at exactly the same time. Both players and
audience have to delve much deeper to comprehend this music, so far ahead of
its time. Schubert’s original plan back in 1824 was to write a set of three
quartets dedicated to Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the famous violinist and leader of
the Schuppanzigh Quartet. Unfortunately the dedicatee made heavy weather of the
Death and the Maiden, the second in
the trilogy, and volubly discouraged Schubert – my dear fellow, this is no good, leave it alone; you stick to your

Schubert’s monumental
work opens in a remarkable fashion – a quiet G major chord grows into a
fortissimo G minor chord followed by conclusive aftershocks.  This is the first theme, this major key –
minor key altercation in a jagged rhythm with violent dynamics, reflecting the
inner turmoil in Schubert’s life.  A
second idea follows quickly, building fragments from this chaos into a gentle
singing over a hushed tremolo in the lower instruments.  The savagery of the opening then returns as a
third section in this first subject group. The second subject begins piano with a gentle theme in thirteen
bars.  This is immediately repeated with
a shimmering triplet violin figure dancing above.  Then a larger, more vigorous variant is
presented and the two ideas are alternated so you get something approaching a
theme and variations acting as the second subject group. The exposition is

The development is
reached after an extended tremolo and the same material is worked through
again. However when we reach the tremolo transition section, it is enormously
expanded using material from the third section of the opening. When we finally
reach the recapitulation, the opening figure moves from the minor key to the
major and instead of the fortissimo outburst there is a piano pizzicato.  Everything
is changed now, the jagged edges are smoothed over and where there was
aggression there is now hesitancy – all the material is now viewed through this
perspective.  The coda revisits the
opening for one last time.  

The Andante is
perhaps not as famous as the Adagio in the C major Quintet, but it can move us
even more. The cello’s expansive main theme foreshadows the journey of the
wanderer in Winterreise, it is as if
the cello is trying to hold onto his mood of weary resignation. This mask
however is savagely ripped off by an outburst of manic violence with
ostinato-like dissonances whose brutality seems to anticipate Bartók. In these
terrifying outcries that keep returning to rock the foundations of this movement
we hear the sentence of death that Schubert was struggling to escape.

The Scherzo has a
Mendelssohnian lightness of touch and though we are still in a minor key, the
doom-laden mood of the opening movements is lifted.  The Trio is vintage Schubert with the cello
leading the Ländler, whose major-key dance-steps are all the more precious as
we know their transience. More dancing follows in the last movement as Schubert
returns to the hectic pace of the whirlwind tarantella that he had used in the
D minor Quartet – the sheer drive and energy of this wild dance is almost
enough to keep the shadows at bay, as if Schubert is saying that so long as the
music keeps playing the darkness will stay away.