Recorded on 06/29/2008, uploaded on 12/07/2011
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
The period of time between Beethoven’s death in March 1827 and his own in November of the following year, Franz Schubert produced his richest and most profound works among which include the last three piano sonatas, Winterreise, the “Great” Symphony and the String Quintet in C major. Indeed, even a cursory examination of these works leaves one regretful that Schubert’s life was so tragically cut short. The last named was Schubert’s final chamber work and the only instance of a string quintet in his oeuvre. It was composed during the summer of 1828 and completed either in September or October. As with his last piano sonatas, Schubert submitted the Quintet to the publisher Probst. Probst, however, was seemingly only interested in the composer’s songs and shorter piano pieces, reinforcing the notation that despite growing public acclaim for the composer, he was still largely seen as a composer capable only in these lesser genres. Surely had time allowed, the Quintet along with its companions would have bolstered Schubert’s reputation as a serious and mature composer. Though Schubert in his letter to Probst mentioned rehearsals of the work, the Quintet would go unperformed and unpublished for roughly the next two decades. It was finally premiered in Vienna in 1850 and published in 1853.
Though Schubert’s models for the Quintet in C major were Mozart’s K. 515 quintet and Beethoven’s op. 29, he opted for the unconventional scoring of an additional cello instead of the more usual second viola. Here, only Luigi Boccherini served as a precedent, yet Schubert’s treatment of the additional cello was quite different, moving beyond the simple treatment of setting the first cellist apart as a soloist, to creating a rich and dense middle to bass register. In turn, Schubert’s Quintet served as an inspiration for Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quintet, with both works sharing a prominent semitone motif.
Set out on a symphonic scale, the movements of the String Quintet are for the most part quite conventional. Broad and expansive in a manner that reminds one of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner, the first movement alone takes up one-third of the Quintet’s length. The following Adagio in E major, though not as lengthy, is also a spacious movement. In a ternary design, the outer sections seem to float effortlessly in a world of eternity. The central episode in the distant key of F minor, however, is violently turbulent and makes its presence felt even in the reprise of the E major opening. The Scherzo is energetic and makes quite a noise with the open strings of the lower instruments. The Trio, on the other hand, slows in tempo and returns to the otherworldly sound of the Adagio. Youthful and building off the Scherzo’s endless vitality, the Hungarian-influenced finale creates a remarkably lively conclusion to the work and reminds us that Schubert was but still on the precipice of youthful creativity and artistic maturity. Joseph DuBose
Allegro ma non troppo Adagio Scherzo: Presto — Trio: Andante sostenuto Allegretto courtesy of the Steans Music Institute
The Steans Music Institute is the Ravinia Festival's professional studies program for young musicians.
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