Tune in every day this week at 1:00pm as we mark Schubert’s 226th birthday with an exploration of the beautifully serene, melancholic, and dramatic sound world of Schubert’s late piano sonatas.
Stating on Monday, January 29th you will hear Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A minor D 784. Written in 1823 right around the same time he was diagnosed with syphilis, this sonata changed the landscape of his writing for the piano. Everything from this point on has a sense of reflection and looking back to the past, there are hints of optimism, but it is as if Schubert knows his time is limited.
It’s comparatively large sonata form first movement complete with a musical sigh motive that is prominent throughout, dwarfs the second and third movements, this despite the fact that the final movement has some of Schubert most vigorous and virtuosic writing for the piano.
On Tuesday, January 30th listeners will hear Schubert’s Piano Sonata in G Major D 894. Written in 1826, this is the last of Schubert’s piano sonatas published in his lifetime. Published under the title of Fanatsie Sonata by Schubert’s publisher this sonata is still sometimes as a Fantasie despite the fact that there are four distinct movements. This is a very tuneful work that reminds us that Schubert was a master of melody and writing sing able melodies.
Bookended by expansive first and fourth movements, the lieder aspect of the sonata is particularly noticeable in the inner movements, with Schubert presenting beautiful and at times folksy sounding themes.
Everest, K2, and Kangchenjunga
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you will hear the last three great piano sonatas Schubert composed. These three mighty pillars of the piano repertoire were written in the last months of his life, 1828, but not published until ten years after his death. Inexplicably, they were largely ignored in the 19th century. It was only in the 20th century that these works were recognized for the works of genius that they truly are.
On Wednesday, January 31st tune in to hear his Piano Sonata in C minor D.958. Schubert venerated Beethoven, and this sonata clearly shows the influence of the long shadow that Beethoven cast over Schubert. Firstly the choice of key; C minor… very often associated with some of Beethoven’s most stormy works is used in this sonata to convey some very dramatic and at times extremely expressive music. The influence of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata can be heard in the second movement, and the sheer breadth and scope of the final movement shows the influence of Beethoven Piano Sonata in E Op 31, no3.
On Thursday, February 1st it is the penultimate sonata Schubert composed his Piano Sonata in A Major D. 959. Starting in the 1820’s Schubert has started experimenting with cyclic structures. The compositional concept of having various themes coming back in different movements in various guises. The technique is used in all of the final three sonatas, but is used with particular poignancy in the A major. For example the opening sequence of chords that are used in the first movement, return in the final moment of the second movement. There are also repeated rhythmic fragments that are heard in all the movements of thee sonata, almost as if they are musical signposts. This cyclic structure is a joy to listen to and helps bind the grandeur of the work together
Concluding the week on Friday, February 2nd, you will hear Schubert’s swan song and for many the holy grail of the piano Sonata form; his majestic, lyrical and expressively tuneful Piano Sonata in Bb Major D. 960. With this sonata, Schubert is searching and exploring… both in terms of moods but also in different ways of presenting material and fragments of material. Remote keys are used such as in the case of the second movement which is in C sharp minor, or in the case of the third movement Db major and Gb major. Throughout the sonata it is as if the audience is walking along with Schubert in a kind of waking dream, where themes reoccur in different façades, and harmonic stasis is not always certain. Schubert however, still succeeds in leaving you feeling refreshed, and rejuvenated and wanting more.
Five days, five great piano sonatas…what better way to mark Schubert’s 226th?
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