Recorded on 04/14/2012, uploaded on 04/16/2012
Musician's or Publisher's Notes
Franz Schubert composed his final piano sonatas in the last months of his life. Facing the final stages of the illness that claimed his life, Schubert ironically began seeing better fortunes before his death. For much of his life his music was largely neglected by the Viennese public, however a successful concert given on March 6, 1828 began to raise interest in the composer’s work and drew the attention of publishers. It even brought him a brief period of financial security. It was around this time that the last three sonatas were sketched, and they were completed by September. Even as his health began to quickly deteriorate, Schubert attempted to get the sonatas published but was turned down. After his death, his brother Ferdinand sold the autographs to Anton Diabelli, who eventually published the sonatas in 1839. Despite the growing interest in Schubert’s music by this time, the last piano sonatas were unable to garner a following as did the composer’s symphonies and many lieder. They were mostly neglected for roughly the next century, being viewed as too similar to the sonatas of Beethoven and thus lacking in originality and depth. However, opinions began to change in the middle part of 20th century. Research into the sonatas revealed a deeply personal voice. Since then they have become a standard part of the repertoire.
Owing to their simultaneous genesis, Schubert’s last sonatas are often viewed as a trilogy. Each follows a four-movement design with the same ordering of movements. Yet even beyond this, they share many of the same structural elements. As evidenced by the titles, Schubert clearly intended to publish the three sonatas a set. Some scholars have even suggested musical links that not only span the movements of each single sonata but the entire trilogy, indicating that, whether consciously or subconsciously, Schubert designed the sonatas to complement each other.
Schubert’s final sonata and last work for the piano, the Piano Sonata in B-flat major was completed on September 26, 1828, less than two months before the composer’s death. It is a sublime work written upon death’s doorstep, yet manages nonetheless to end cheerfully as if Schubert retained some hope that his health would improve. Beginning with a hushed, moderately-paced theme, the transcendental opening is marred by the presence of an ominous trill on G-flat low in the piano’s register. By this trill the sonata’s argument is set in motion. The exposition traverses both the keys of G-flat major and its enharmonic parallel, F-sharp minor, before reaching the dominant key of F major at its conclusion. Unlike the previous sonatas, Schubert concentrates on several of the themes presented in the exposition, culminating in a D minor statement of the first subject.
The following slow movement, an Andante sostenuto, is one of Schubert’s most inspired creations, plunging to the depths of the human soul only few have reached. In the far off, distant key of C-sharp minor, the movement opens with an entrancing melody, accompanied by a curious octave figure, and haunted by sounds of the major key. The central episode of this ternary movement introduces a new melody, full of life’s joy and vigor over an animated accompaniment in A major. Despite a shift to the tonic major key in the coda, the movement comes to a poignant close as the harmonies are tinged with tones borrowed from the minor.
Succeeding this otherworldly movement is an effervescent Scherzo and Trio in B-flat major. However, even this lively movement is not entirely free from the turmoil which preceded it as the Trio turns to B-flat minor. Like its immediate predecessor, the B-flat major sonata ends with a rondo, which this time pays homage to Schubert’s idol, Beethoven. Opening with a resounding G in octaves and beginning in the “wrong” key of C minor, the Rondo’s refrain mimics the theme of the alternative finale Beethoven composed for his String Quartet No. 13, op. 130. Joseph DuBose
Allegro -- Adagio -- Menuetto -- Finale: Allegro
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