The third and last of Christopher Guzman’s scheduled piano sonatas this weekend is from Franz Schubert: his Sonata in G Major.
The melodic gifts, harmonic adventurousness and emotional intensity of Franz Schubert’s late works tend to obscure the fact that the composer was only 31 when he died – just as his star was in ascendance.
Schubert spent his entire life in the shadow of Beethoven, whom he revered. As the older composer was reaching the height of his powers, developing his distinctive musical voice, Schubert was struggling to find his own, primarily through the vocal song, a vehicle that capitalized on his melodic brilliance – not one of Beethoven’s strong points – and his ability to capture the emotional essence of a poem in the piano accompaniment.
It was by means of these mini-dramas that he found the expressive depths that characterize his last works – whether small or large – and set him on a different route from that of his idol.
By the time Schubert wrote the Sonata in G Major, D. 894 in the fall of 1826, his name was quite well known in Vienna’s musical circles and he was having some success in getting his works performed and published.
When this piece was published in April 1827, piano sonatas were considered passé. To try to fool the public, the publisher titled the work “Fantasie, Andante, Menuetto, und Allegretto,” implying that it was four separate pieces. A long article in a prestigious musical journal of the time treated it as a sonata in everything but name, referring to the four pieces as “movements.”
More importantly, however, was the critic’s overall evaluation of Schubert, distinguishing his individual and original voice from the host of Beethoven imitators.
Significantly, Schubert appears to have been focusing on the idea of contrasting pianistic textures throughout this sonata. Time and again, he juxtaposes thick chordal sonorities with more delicate cantabile, treble-dominated passages. Schubert’s penchant for repetition is also evident.
The first movement of the G major Sonata is the first piece to which Schubert added both a time signature (12/8) and tempo marking (molto moderato e cantabile). The time signature is particularly important because the most striking element in the movement is the rhythm of its first theme: an exaggerated limping motive that takes up the first six beats of the measure, plus an upbeat motive of five eighth notes.
For the second theme, the rhythm evens out to a slow waltz. The Andante begins with a placid cantabile melody in three part form. A switch to minor mode and a thicker texture in the middle section introduces a sudden storm. The return to the opening section alters the original melody with a decoration in the upper voice. Schubert goes on to repeat the middle section in another key, after which he finally comes to rest with a straight repeat of the beginning and a little coda.
The Menuetto has clearly left the realm of the Classical minuet, but it is not a Beethoven scherzo either. Both Minuet in b minor and Trio in B major fall into the category of the Ländler, the peasant precursor of the waltz.
The final Allegretto is a rondo with two extensive and harmonically adventurous episodes.
Christopher Guzman – March 12, 2011
Tickets may be purchased here on our website, or call 830-833-4762 for more information.