String Quartet No 14 in D Minor D.810 ‘Death and the Maiden’

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

Performance date: 02/07/2011

Venue: St. Brendan’s Church

Composition Year: 1824

Duration: 00:38:20

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation: 2vn, va, vc

Instrumentation Category:String Quartet

Artists: Kappa Quartet (Hugh Murray, Christine Kenny [violins], David Kenny [viola], Cliona Ní Choileann [cello]) - [quartet]

D minor quartet is the cry of despair of a man under sentence of
death, those Romantic and melodramatic songs he set to music in
another carefree world had suddenly become real. Those remorseless
galloping hooves as the hapless father with his feverish and dying
son in his arms hopelessly tries to escape the
now be heard by Schubert himself. And the cold grip of Death as he
takes the Maiden in his arms is an ever-present fear. This is all
brutally and disgustingly present and the desperate composer can only
try to cheat death by overcoming him with music.

power, bordering on savagery, of the writing is there from the
opening challenge, as though Schubert is daring us not to listen to
what he has to say, and this challenge goes on to meet its appalled
climax in the coda of this opening movement. The first thematic
outburst is gradually softened, dynamically as well as harmonically
before the theme takes off in the frantic pursuit by the
interrupted only by the violent chords from the opening. The gentler
second theme is still haunted by the pursuing triplets before the
first theme forces its way back and builds to a whole series of
violent conclusions. After the exposition repeat, a massive chord
cuts straight into the development, which further unsettles us by
combining both subjects at the same time. The recapitulation follows
without a break leading us to the appalled coda with its great gasp
of horror that evolves into one last pursuit hurtling towards the
violin’s desperate pleas for help.

cry for help is met by the strict formality of a theme with five
variations and a coda from whose self-imposed restriction there is no
escape. The music is taken from the piano accompaniment to the voice
of Death in the song, constructing in the process a new binary form
theme in G minor.

consoling mood of the theme is harmonically constricted by Schubert’s
sense of horror at what is happening to him. The first three
variations see a gradual increase in time values; in the first the
theme is given to the middle voices with the cello’s pizzicato
underpinning the first violin’s decorations, the second has the
theme in the viola while the third sees a unison and fortissimo
attack. The fourth variation bursts out with the galloping triplets,
while the fifth sees a slow crescendo to a dreadful climax that fades
quietly into the coda’s bell-like echoes of Death’s theme.

Scherzo reverts to the tough D minor mood of the first movement,
which makes it all the more surprising to find out that Schubert has
borrowed the theme from one of his hundreds of keyboard dances. The
Trio is more soothing, in the customary binary form but with the
repeats varied. The presto finale returns to the nocturnal gallop of
the opening movement, propelled by an obsessive rhythmic figure of
seemingly inexhaustible energy until chillingly interrupted by
another metamorphosis of the Death theme. And so Schubert works out
in these last extraordinary pages his dreaded vision of beauty and
horror, galloping together endlessly through the night.