String Quintet in C Major D.956

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

Performance date: 07/07/2012

Venue: Bantry Library

Composition Year: 1828

Duration: 00:49:41

Recording Engineer: Anton Timoney, RTÉ lyric fm

Instrumentation Category:String Quintet

Instrumentation Other: 2vn, va, 2vc

Artists: RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet (Gregory Ellis, Keith Pascoe [violins], Simon Aspell [viola], Christopher Marwood [cello]) - [quartet]
Anja Lechner - [cello]

Schubert’s last years were
a race against time. He knew he was fatally ill and this clearly heightened the
emotional perceptions of his inspired romantic imagination. He died on 19th November 1828, after a ten-day
illness. During the last days he was often delirious, but when he was lucid he
spent his time correcting proofs of Winterreise. In the two previous months he had
completed the last three magnificent piano sonatas in C minor, A major and B
flat; the thirteen songs that make up Schwanengesang; the joyous Der Hirt auf dem Felsen that brings clarinet and soprano
together; and, as if that were not enough, this overwhelming quintet. There
seems to have been no commission for these works, just a desperate need to keep
writing while he still could.

undoubtedly knew the Mozart string quintets with the extra viola, and that
composer’s tactic of dividing his quintet into two trios. Schubert chose
instead the extra cello and divides his ensemble into two quartets, which gives
the single extra instrument a disproportionately more powerful effect. He was
particularly taken by the luminous quality of the cello’s top string, as is
wonderfully demonstrated by the first movement’s second subject, where the two
cellos duet serenely high above the viola’s bass line. The extra bass
instrument also gives him more freedom to explore the lyrical potential of the
cello, as well as giving richer tenor register textures, as in the Adagio where the theme is played by the
second violin, viola and first cello.

The long-breathed opening is deep with mystery, soon to be
dispelled by a greater sense of urgency. A triplet figure arises as the
signature of this new momentum, and drives the music to the expected cadence,
where a harmonic twist moves to the unexpected key of E flat, an inspired
preparation for the gorgeous melody of the second subject. This begins in the
two cellos, then the violins, and finally the first violin and the viola. The
exposition is rounded off by a new march-like idea, which dominates the development
that follows the exposition repeat. The extended and emotionally intensified
development culminates in the driving triplets that led to the second subject,
and a seamless return to the opening material and the recapitulation. The coda
manages to encompass both the power and the mystery of the opening, before this
huge twenty-minute movement is finally closed.

timelessness of the work’s opening is echoed and intensified by the
otherworldly Adagio. The
impression of calm is constantly undermined by the first violin’s decorative
comments, but each time reaffirmed by the pulsation of the plucked cello. This
finally erupts in the F minor middle section, where we experience some of the
terror and anguish that Schubert knew so well. The driving triplet rhythms from
the first movement mutate into dark and bitter foreboding, which the warmth of
the main theme only manages to calm after a long struggle. The return to the
Elysian Fields of the opening is accomplished as the F minor mode collapses
exhausted, and the familiar strains re-emerge with greatly elaborated
decorations. Eventually the cello pizzicatos return, and the utter peacefulness
of the opening is almost recovered in music of unearthly beauty.

primeval physicality of the peasant dance Scherzo comes as a brutal shock after so much
introspection. There is an unquenchable joy in living in this music, an earthy
power that generates a short-lived but all-consuming elation. The Trio is the absolute opposite, a despairing
travail through the valley of the shadow of death, which reminds us of that
other winter’s journey he wrote about, and looks forward to his own death two
weeks later. The return of the Scherzo has this time an element of frantic

The finale is a procession of dances from the wild Hungarian
melody at the beginning to the gorgeous Viennese lilt of the heart-warming
second subject. Schubert wrote literally hundreds of dances for dance-crazy
Vienna, and he exults here in his skill. But even here the demons lurk in moments
of threatening quiet and bursts of frenetic energy. The final section is
Schubert at his most exuberant driving the music to a thunderous and dramatic