String Quartet No.13 in A minor D.804 ‘Rosamunde’

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

Performance date: 28/06/2023

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1824

Duration: 00:34:23

Recording Engineer: Gar Duffy, RTÉ

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Ardeo Quartet - [String Quartet]

String Quartet No.13 in A minor D.804 ‘Rosamunde’ [1824]

  1. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Andante
  3. Minuetto: Allegro & Trio
  4. Allegro moderato

Schubert’s Thirteenth Quartet was written at a time when he knew his health was damaged beyond repair. Earlier in the spring of 1824 he had poured out his heart to one of his friends, quoting Gretchen am Spinnrade, one of his most famous songs – Meine Ruh ist hin, mein Herz ist schwer, ich finde sie nimmer und nimmermehr. Imagine a man, his letter went, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicity of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain at best… His illness often forced him into isolation and it even affected his ability to sing and to play the piano. But it did not, to our lasting benefit, stop him from composing.  

The Rosamunde begins like a song with a gently rocking accompaniment figure in the lower strings over which the first violin sings the song. This hypnotic accompaniment figure is very close to the famous spinning wheel accompaniment to Gretchen; as in his D minor Quartet which followed soon after, Schubert is recalling the songs he wrote in his youth and seeing them in a very different light.

The second subject, also a notable theme but dwarfed by Schubert’s obsession with his song melody, is distinguished by the trill on its second note, which persists even when the theme changes its shape. The short development concentrates exclusively on the magical opening theme culminating in a tough exercise in counterpoint leading to an appalled throbbing in the cello while the theme floats consolingly above. The coda returns a last time to his song as if he cannot bear to leave it.

The tranquil theme of the Andante is from the Rosamunde incidental music, which had been put together in a great hurry the previous December. Although this Quartet was not finished until March 1824, it seems more likely that Schubert plundered his half-written Quartet for the incidental music than the other way around. The form of this movement is as simple as the tune, ABAB coda, where the coda combines both themes. The Rosamunde  theme takes so long to present and the second theme flows so naturally out of the first, that this movement also takes on the appearance of being as monothematic as the preceding one. Just once the drama of the composer’s life bursts through the tranquillity but without succeeding in disturbing the overall mood.

“Schöne Welt, wo bist du?” is the question asked by the song from which Schubert took the theme for his minuet. The cello keeps on putting the question to the other instruments, whose swaying rhythm provides an inconclusive answer. The Trio is a gentle major-key interlude. The only answer to Schiller’s and Schubert’s question lies of course in the beauty of the poetry and the music.

The A major Rondo stays with the questioning and uncertain mood despite the apparently jovial nature of the main theme. There are many hesitations as well as a minor key second subject and the coda avoids any easy affirmation.

Francis Humphrys