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History of Western Music by Performance

Basic Facts and Life

Born on January 31th, 1797 in Vienna, Austria and died on November 19th 1828, Schubert’s short life fell almost precisely in the transition from the Classical to the Romantic period, and his childhood starts with Beethoven’s middle period, in which he has already changed the Classical sonata form into something free and emotional.

Franz Schubert was the son of a schoolmaster. He got basic musical training from his father and his brother and was an extraordinary talented choir boy. He received an excellent education in a convent and got musical tuition from prominent teachers.

The most interesting fact about his life as a composer is that he is the first western composer who earned his living without patronage. He only gave one public concert during his life, which was well received, even though he was not known as especially virtuous player – still, he was a good player. In times without income, he was sometimes supported by his friends.

At the age of seventeen in 1813/1814, he attended a teacher training college and then was a school teacher for young boys in the school of his father, which seemed for him the only possibility of an income. Nevertheless, he had not much interest in this occupation and showed an indifference towards his job. During that time, in 1814, he was prolifically composing: he wrote a symphony, 6 string quartets, piano pieces, orchestral pieces and over 50 songs. He had an almost Mozart-like gift of being able to write no matter what was going on around him, and what he wrote needed hardly any corrections. During 1815, he wrote more than 200 works, ranging from songs to symphonies, among them his famous and lovely Goethe works “Heidenröslein” and the “Erlkönig”.

In 1816, he gave up school teaching and moved in with one of his closest friend, Franz Schober. His cosmopolitan friend introduced him to a rich but also and frivolous life, which Schubert otherwise might not have met. He became acquainted with a well-known Baritone singer in the Vienna Opera, Franz Michael Vogl, who admired Schubert’s songs tremendously and became their pivotal singer and exponent. Unfortunately, it was also that frivolous lifestyle which exposed Schubert to health dangers: presumably, during frequent visits to brothels he contracted syphilis.

In the post-Napoleon-defeat atmosphere, in a climate of careful observance and drastic measures against potential revolutionary motions due the the Metternich reign – a model of a surveillance state – people started to withdrew into the security and privacy of their homes. People started to live according to comfortable Romantic Bourgeois values, and music was an intrinsic part of it. Almost everybody sang and plaid or listened to music. It may have been also due to this fact that Schubert’s music became valued in private circles, and which vice versa may have influenced the motifs of his songs towards a private and individualistic romanticism? With his music suitable for private occasions together with his outgoing, charming temperament, he was never without a wide circle of friends who valued him and his music – not a little rewarding substitute for a public career.

Still, there is a legacy Schubert himself might nor might not have been happy about: he and part of his music has been now and then associated with the notion of “Biedermeier” – a German idiomatic term for a way of living that puts much value of the convenience and security of the private home, surrounding itself with neat objects and avoiding involvement in public affairs.

An income as composer from the Church was not one of Schubert’s feasible options. Even though Church music was still a way forward for a composer, patronage of the Princess of the Church was still necessary. For the non-religious, agnostic Schubert, religion was not an easy match. So he struggled unsuccessfully in this regard.

But there was high demand for Opera at that time, and it was light Opera and above all Italian opera what people wanted. Schubert wrote 17 German operas. In 1815, we worked on no less than seven operas, but only three of them reached the stage. They all failed, due mostly to poor librettos and the popular competition from the Italians like Rossini. Another opera was commissioned from him, the “Die Zwillingsbrüder”, but it was not performed until 1820, and then only for six performances. Hence, opera could also not be counted as a source of income for Schubert.

An ephemeral income came in 1818, when he was offered the position of music tutor for the daughters of the Esterházy family in their Hungarian summer home. The Esterházys were the life-long employers of Joseph Haydn. This journey to Hungary was as far as Schubert traveled in his life.In 1819, back in Vienna, on a trip with Vogl, he wrote a commissioned work for a local music patron the charming piano quartet “The Forelle”, one his most famous chamber works.

A more stable source of income came after that. After his friends had already made Schubert’s manuscript known to him, one of Vienna’s most significant music publisher, Anton Diabelli, began to publish his works sporadically, which brought Schubert a nice income, but he was generally useless in organizing his finances and other practical issues – another parallel to Mozart. Genius seems to be that concerned with every-day issues.

In the winter 1827, he began one of his greatest works, the song cycle “Die Winterreise”. It was based on the poems of Romantic poet Robert Müller, and Schubert’s great composing make this little stunning piece of poetry quite magical. In 1928, he. was busy with his “Great C-major Symphony”, a string quartet in C major and his unfinished 8th symphony.

In 1828, he experienced the onset of the second state of syphilis, which is contracted in earlier years, presumable due this visits to brothels. Later, while seeking betterment at his brother’s house on the countryside, typhoid fever struck him down, the same illness which killed his mother and from which he died soon later on November 19th 1827, aged not quite thirty-two. Some sources surmise he had tried to treat his syphilis with mercury, the usual treatment for syphilis in those days, and actually died of mercury poisoning.

Musical Education and Influences

At a young age, Franz Schubert’s musical talent was recognized and promoted. His father, a hobby celloist taught him the violin, his brother gave him violin lessons, As a choir boy in the Imperial Court Chapel in Vienna, he become the first soprano due to his beautiful voice and his vocal talent, where his gifts caught the eye of the choir master. He received a place in the Imperial Court Seminary, where he learned about the Overtures and symphonies of Mozart and those of Haydn.

His later to become prolific production of “Lieder” was mainly influenced by the ballads of German composer Johann Rudolph Zumsteeg, which Schubert imitated as teenager.

In the seminary, Schubert was occasionally allowed to lead the orchestra. It was due to this circumstance that Vienna’s Court Composer Antonio Salieri was impressed by the genius of Schubert’s compositions, and he gave the young Schubert private tuitions in composition and in counterpoint. Salieri also introduced Schubert to Christoph Wilibald Gluck’s music, the most popular German Opera composer of the previous century, which delighted young Schubert. Even later, when Schubert was a teacher at his father’s school, the continued to take technical training from Salieri.

Schubert was a great admirer of Beethoven, but both only met once, and Schubert was nervous on the occasion, so another encounter never came to pass. Beethoven was astounded by the quality of Schubert’s songs, and Schubert had dedicated a piano duet to him. In 1827, Schubert was of many torch bearers at Beethoven funeral.

Towards Mozart, Schubert showed the admiration as a composer who could not reach him, but the work of whom have left permanent impressions on him: “[..] I still here faintly, as if from a distance, the magic echoes of Mozart’s music … O, Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, how infinitely many inspiring impressions of a brighter and better life have you engraved in our souls[…]” [4]

Schubert’s Legacy

Franz Schubert left an impressive amount of work in his brief life. His musical legacy comprised about 1000 works, the majority of which over 600 songs (amongst them the aforementioned lovely “Heidenröslein”) and song cycles, (the greatest and most profound one being “Die Winterreise”, the “Winter Journey”).

He wrote nine symphonies, two of them incomplete, among them the so-called “Unfinished” Eigths, which is probably the most popular of all – and the fragment of a tenth. His most important and most influential symphony is his so-called “Great Symphony” in C major, D. 944. It is his ninth symphony, listed in newer catalogs as the 8th symphony. It was published only in 1840 after Schubert’s death. Robert Schumann seized hold of the manuscript ten years after Schubert’s died. After a performance by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy in Leipzig, Schumann is reported to have said it be “the greatest instrumental work since the death of Beethoven”. He also hailed it for its “heavenly length”. The symphony’s new emphasis of melodic development influenced Schumann’s symphonic own aspirations, but also of other Romantic composers. Indeed, listening to Schubert’s Great Symphony, you are reminded even of composers like Bruckner, something which does not occur when listening to Haydn’s, Mozart’s and Beethoven’s symphonies. Furthermore, Schubert left 30 chamber works – for example his famous “Forellen Quintett” (“The Trout”) and the mesmerizing and influential “Der Tod und das Mädchen” of 1824 (“Death and the Maiden”), which gained much admiration and praise from Robert Schumann as well.

Concerning Church music, a category in which Schubert engaged in his last years, he composed six masses (for example, the “German Mass”).

He created about 18 operas, half of which he completed; the most known is the commissioned work “Die Zwillingsbrüder” (“The Twin Brothers”) mentioned earlier.

Last but not least, he left a great number of solo works for the piano, amongst it 21 piano sonatas.

Since Schubert works were rarely published during his lifetime, most of them do not bear opus numbers. Only in 1951, Otto Erich Deutsch created a chronologically catalog of Schubert works, assigning them “Deutsch Numbers”, a number prefixed by the letter D.Notwithstanding his immense output, unlike Beethoven, Schubert was almost unknown as composer during his lifetime. Contemporary music critics did not even mention him. In the eyes of the public his reputation was that of a song writer and therefore not that of a serious composer. When his music got serious it was not understood though. Yet, he was well valued and understood by his close circle of friend, among whom many of his manuscripts and copies were circling and who later preserved his works, so that they were gradually published after this death.

Schubert had many social gatherings and musical parties with his wide circle of predominantly artist friends, with recitals of his works, his songs and waltzes. So it came that during his lifetime, his music was predominantly performed in those private occasions, which after Schubert’s death came to be called those “Schubertiaden”. Presumable, it is this fact in combination with the Romantic poetry he set into this music which founded his popular reputation among the broader public as Romantic song composer – an image not at all living up to his sweeping genius recognized in musically privy circles.

References

(1) Composer Biographies, GroveMusic:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/education/schubert.html

(2) Wikipedia, Franz Schubert:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Schubert#Early_life_and_education

(3)  Schubert: 20 facts about the great composer:

http://www.classicfm.com/composers/schubert/guides/schubert-20-facts-about-great-composer/mozart-9/

(4) Christopher Nupen, Documentary “The Greatest Love & The Greatest Sorrow”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHwkmiKlQsA

(5) Wikipedia, String Quartet No. 14 (Schubert):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_and_the_Maiden_Quartet_%28Schubert%29

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Bach Chanonne

Bach’s Chanonne Scores

I. Identification of a passage in the Chaconne

At minute 6.27 (according to my counting the transition from measure 120 to 121), a series of variations, reminiscent of Vivaldi’s „Autumn“ in the „Four-Seasons“, which appear stormy and agitated, is put to a stop by a fierce stroke in the bassline. The music then evolves into a sequence of melodic and fluent undulations in the higher voice, interspersed more or less regularly by distinct two notes, an ostinato again in the bassline, repeating and reaffirming the voice with ended the stormy phase in the first place.

That preceding stormy phase started at minute 4.50 while going from measure 89 to 90, when the instructions say “arpeggio” that is, play in “broken chord”. This also marks a striking transition. Neverthelesss, I am going to concentrate on the described transition from measure 120 to 121.

II. Exploration of personal responses

1. Emotions and Associations

The moment when this transition occurs, it feels like I am going from a state of motley, fighting emotions and thoughts, agitated and stormy, to which I felt helplessly subjected, into an awareness of self-determination: the fierce bassline note which puts a stop to the chaos is like a virile voice, proclaming: „Stop, am the master of my thoughts and emotions. You cannot do with me as you please. I am going to bring order in the chaos“.

From that moment on, emotions are becoming more regular and stable; the melodic, fluent line in the high voice gives me emotional stability. At the same time, it gives me a ride, it drives me effortless further over a short distance, like a gust of tailwind while on a bicycle. And yet, as if I am afraid of being dragged along against my will, those interspersed two bassline notes come to my rescue by slowing down the momentum – as if the low voice itself is afraid of losing its sway. I want to hold emotions in check and do not want to be swept away by them.

2. Differences

The transition is so striking because the preceding section sounds very different from the other variations of the original motif: it is played in arpeggio, that is, harmonically broken, harp-like, every note in a chord sequentially, and this gives the preceding section such a stormy and discordant emotional character. The transition is so stark because the music then changes back to harmonic chords: a chord, consisting of two, three or four notes above each other are played simultaneously (as far as possible on the violin), and it makes the following section rather soothing in contrast.

As broached before, the contrast also resonates emotionally in me: this sudden change evokes appears as inner revolt against the chaos and the whirlwind of emotions, and it actually brings me back into a state of calmness and harmony. The upper voice, now harmonic and fluently undulating, becomes more melodic and ordered. A self-determined hope, represented by bassline voice, is still present as a reminder to keep things ordered and do let them spin out of control again.

The revolt had its intended effect, but it is only ephemeral. The exhorting, virile voice becomes less powerful; it slows down by becoming stretched; Also, the melodic voice becomes weaker and hesitant: the top voice is palpably lowered and stretched, too. It feels like the initial revolt slows down and loses momentum.

3. The Larger Structure

Yet, before the whole play of exhorting and upbeat voices peters out, the original motif from the beginning reappears, as if the emotional storm was only an unsettling, but ephemeral episode. But I appears not fully unexpectedly. Rather, it feels like something what was expected to happen. We return home to familiar motif from with we started out in the first place. Several measures later, the key changes from the emotionally gloomy key d-minor to the brighter key D-major. This is the second part of the Chaconne.

The described phase turns out to be a transition from an adventurous emotional journey, a self-determined returning home to the original theme, towards what feels like the end of a movement. It is almost like the recapitulation in the sonata form, only less emotionally  resonating per dint of am unchanged tonality: there is no transition from a dominant key to the home key. Nonetheless, I feel on secure and familiar soil again, until, with the shift to D-major when we enter the second part of the Chaconne.

Embedded in a larger structure, this passage constitutes a transitional phase, preparing us for coming back emotionally to the original motif. It also prepares us for the end of the first “movement”. If it had been left out, the direct transition from the emotional storm in the arpeggio section to the well-behaved home motif would have felt too abrupt, too unnatural. It would have been a leap we would not have been able to follow emotionally. The passage from the described transition at 6.16, until the return of the home motif, helps us manage the emotional shift.

References

J.S. BACH Chaconne from Partita in D minor, BVW 1004, James Ehnes, violin

BWV 1004 – Chaconne (Scrolling) :

http://youtu.be/U2UyC2VcOj0

 

I. Exposition (0:04 to 1:41, repeated at 1:42 to 3:19)

The first theme appears right at the beginning of the piece (in the recording at minute 0:04 or measure 1), and it lasts until minute 0:20 (or including measure 12).

The transitional material is plaid from 0:20 until 1:05, and features some interesting sub-themes, transitions and cadences.

The one example I would like to single out are three “staircase transitions”, played by the first violin. It gives us the imagination of running several flights of stairs up or down, as if we are searching for something, and what we find at each place is a harbinger of the second theme, its upbeat motif, its bridge, In midst all the transitional material we have heard since we have left the first theme, it sticks out with its melodic, stable character and shows some melodic connection with the second theme: it appears like a prelude to it. I call it therefore the harbinger or the upbeat motif of the second theme.

At 0:39, the first violin takes us down a some flights of stairs, and we find the cello announcing the second theme in a modified form over two bars. At 0:45, the violin takes us up again the staircase, and the cello gives the same upbeat motif of the second theme as harbinger. At 0:50, the converse direction is repeated, until at 0.55, the first violin takes up that upbeat motif and continues it – and here the shift to the dominant key F major takes place.

Finally, at 1:04 (measure 45) the second theme is fully introduced by the cello until 1:16 (measure 53). Right after that, the first violin repeats the second theme slightly modified, until 1:26 (measure 60).

This section feels like the second theme, because it is the first singable melody in the dominant key F, and it also gives a striking contrast in instrumentation: it is played by the cello alone, only slightly accompanied by the viola. Hence, the texture is very thin compared to the first theme, in which all four instruments are involved, except for the first five measures, in which only the violins and the viola provide the music; only later, the cello chimes in. Nevertheless, the first theme is predominantly introduced by the first violin, the other instruments are mere accompaniment, while the second theme has the texture of a solo. Furthermore, whereas the first theme shows a refined and timid character, being played in piano, the second theme is articulated with more volume, even though not in any forte dynamic: it is neither timid nor assertive, thereby affirming its independent, self-reliant nature: neither does it have to be restraint nor assert itself.

One aspect of contrast to the first theme stems from a different tonality: the second theme is played in the dominant key F major, creating an emotional pull towards the first theme, which is plaid in the home key, the tonic key B flat major.

Concerning its character, the second theme is less melodic and less beautiful than the first theme. Even though you feel that it tries to follow suit the first motif in its melodic character, due to its sole, almost isolated existence and its more sentimental rather than beautiful countenance, it seems like the little sibling of the first theme. It stands lonely outside of the concert hall, at the window, trying to imitate his big brother playing inside with all the other instruments. You recognize some relationship, but you still feel the contrast.

The second theme appears to be slower, but also more continuous, more fluent than the first theme. This continuity is nicely counter-painted by some pauses, with gives the theme a hopping, punctuated element: it adds a feeling or progression to the theme. The first theme lacks these moments of instability and progression.

Even when the first theme is repeated by the first violin at 1:14 (measure 53), those differences makes for a striking contrast to the first theme.

A worth-mentioning aspect of this piece is that Mozart uses so much wonderful and resourceful material in the transition from the first to the second theme. This part is – in my view – actually the richest portion of the first movement.

II. Development (3:20 to 4:39, retransition at 4:29)

At 3:20 (measure 72), the development starts strikingly. It repeats in forte the last five measures of the closing theme from the exposition, but without giving a feeling of strict closure: the final chord at 3:25 (measure 76) is a weaker chord, especially because for both violins it is not a chord anymore at all, but only a single note. That is why is does not feel as the end of a section, rather as a dramatic upbeat for a new section.

It might be argued that this section still belongs to the exposition and constitutes its final closing theme. But I disagree with this view on the grounds that the first rendition of the exposition does not include this section, and that the closing chord of this section has not a strict closing character. Hence, this section appears to me as an upbeat for the development.

The very first bar of the first theme appears very soon, subtle but frequently: lowered quite a bit at 3:46 (measures 89/90/91), three times and descending by the viola, slightly higher then the original at 3:47 (measures 90/91) by the fist violin, and very subtle by the cello at measures 3:52 and 3:54 (measures 93/95).

The pure development section is rather short. It only lasts until the retransition begins at 4:29 (measure 108), which broaches the first theme by playing its again the very first bar of the first theme. Starting with the second violin, both violins take turns playing the first theme’s beginning. The second violin does it a few notches lower than the first violin. The violins pass each other the first bar of theme one, until the first violin abandons the play and provides several modulations, during the break of which the second violin and the viola keep repeating the first bar of theme one.

These snippets of the first theme have a thicker texture than in the original first theme: they are always embedded in a dense accompaniment, either by the viola or by the cello. Most of time, it is different in pitch, that is, slightly higher or lower than the original.

At 7:27 (measure 123), the violin ushers in the final return to the first theme by means of a staircase-like downward sequence. It leads us up again the stairs, changing to the dominant F along the way, and drops us there with a two-bar cadence at 7:35 (measure 128-130). This cadence let us fall gently like a swinging leaf, until the the first theme catches us. Those short, preceding snippets of the first theme have subconsciously prepared us for being caught by theme one; they have been a part of a shrewd retransition.

III. Recapitulation (7:38 to 9:28)

As mentioned before, at 7:27 (measure 123), the retransition begins and leads us to the recapitulation. The recapitulation starts at 7:38 (measure 131) with a repetition of the first theme, only with some differences: here the first theme appears less carefully and less timidly. It is self-confident right away: the second violin is game right from the beginning, whereas in the original first theme, the first violin solely introduces the theme, feeling its way forward, until the second violin chimes in thematically at measure two. In short, the first theme starts with a thicker texture here.

In terms of articulation, the first theme here appears with slightly more volume. Concerning other features, like rhythm and tempo, both appearances of the first theme seem widely identical.

The little brother, the second theme, makes its first appearance in the recap at 8:47 (measure 179) until 8:59 (measure 187), but different in instrumentation. It is played by the first violin (instead of the cello), immediately repeated at 8:59 (measure 187) until 9:10 (measure 195) by the viola (instead of the first violin). The importance of the second theme seems to be reversed compared to the exposition, but obviously deliberately: it lends their appearances some symmetry (cello – violin – violin – viola), but it still makes for a contrast. In terms of texture (in both cases it is essentially a solo), in terms of articulation (both are neither piano nor forte) as well as in rhythm, the second theme appears identical both in the recapitulation and in the exposition.

In terms of texture (in both cases it is essentially a solo), in terms of articulation (both are neither piano nor forte) as well as in rhythm, the second theme appears widely identical both in the recapitulation and in the exposition.

The main differences are with respect to instrumentation as well as tonality: apart from being played by a different instrument in the recapitulation, it is played in the home key, the tonic B-flat major instead of the dominant F in the exposition.

Worth mentioning is how the quest on the staircase appears in the recapitulation with a nice contrast. This time, it is the cello which drives us through the stairwell, and the violin offers a place to rest by delivering the upbeat motif of the second theme.

References:

chanonne

IMSLP, String Quartet No.22 in B-flat major, K.589, Full Score:
http://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/01802

Schubert's Brille

By SCHUBERTcommons (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The Era

Schubert’s String Quartet No. 9 in g minor, D. 173, is one of his early works. Among his string quartets it is the very first in a minor key – and probably one of the most underperformed string quartets amongst his great ones.

Written in 1815, when Schubert was only eighteen years old, it fell into a political atmosphere which was a fertile soil for chamber works to be performed in domestic venues. The defeat of Napoleon in 1814 and the resulting Vienna Congress in 1814/1815, was exactly the time while young Schubert was composing prolifically and created this quartet. The eyes of Europe were on Vienna while the Congress was held, “and native pride, wit and fashion rose to the occasion”[6]. “Romantic Bourgeois values, as national cultural heritage, were held in high esteem, and music was an intrinsic part of it. Almost everybody sang and plaid or listened to music”[6]. As a result, notwithstanding the high demand and the huge popularity of Opera, in particular Italian Opera, music was predominantly performed in private circles. Chamber music was ubiquitous and coveted as means of acting out Bourgeois values.

This became even intensified during the post-Napoleon Metternich Era, in a climate of suspicious surveillance and drastic measures against potentially revolutionary motions – a model  of a surveillance state. People withdrew into the security of their private homes, expressing themselves in politically innocuous arts. Romantic chamber music was amongst it.

The Composer

Born on January 31th, 1797 in Vienna, Austria and died on November 19th 1928, Schubert’s short life fell almost precisely in the transition from the Classical to the Romantic period. His childhood started in Beethoven’s middle period, at time at which the great German composer  had  already changed the classical sonata form into something more subjective and emotional.

Franz Schubert was the son of a schoolmaster. He got basic musical training from his father and his brother and was an extraordinary talented choir boy. He received an excellent education in a convent and got musical tuition from prominent teachers, like Antonio Salieri.

The most interesting fact about his life as a composer is that he was the first Western composer who actually earned his living without any patronage. In dire times without income he was sometimes supported by his friends. An ephemeral income came in 1818, when he was offered the position of a music tutor for the daughters of the Esterházy family in their Hungarian summer home. Later, a more stable source of income came. After his friends had already made Schubert’s manuscript known to him, Vienna’s most significant music publisher, Anton Diabelli, began to publish his works sporadically. Alas, this string quartet was not among those.

The Background

String Quartet No. 9 belongs to Schubert’s legacy of 30 chamber works, among them 15 string quartets which survived, some missing and one fragmented string quartet.

The piece emerged in a period in young Schubert’s life in which he had, on the one hand, financial security, but, on the other hand, found himself in a personally unfulfilling job towards he was indifferent. He had finished a two-year training as school teacher in 1913/14, and after that became a tutor for little boys in his father’s schoolhouse – his only option for making a living.

Musically, the period of 1814/1815 was a very prolific time. Schubert’s created a score of works, more than 200 in total, among them two symphonies, two piano sonatas numerous songs and pieces for the stage – but also two string quartets in a series of six, in the timespan from 1813 to 1816. String Quartet No.9 occupies a special role among his string quartet insofar as it is the very first string quartet centered in minor key.

The short time in which it was composed – scant eight days – reflected the compositional productivity of this period of Schubert’s life. This striking productivity may have been due to his youth combined with the fact that in those years he did not have the rich social life he would have later, after becoming acquainted with his cosmopolitan friend Franz Schoenberg. Furthermore, a dispute about his fervent love to a local girl, Therese Grob, having added to his compositional outburst in this years endures.

String Quartet No. 9, of which no dedication is known, appears originally intended to be performed in more more than just private venues – unlike many of Schubert’s pieces, in particular his “Lieder”, which where meant to plaid in private homes and by hobbyists.

Nevertheless, for a long time  it never transcended domestic use. The first performance after its creation was privately by Schubert’s family – like many of his others works. After that, the piece had been neglected by the musical community until half a century later, posthumously in 1863, it was premiered in public at last, and finally published in 1871. Little is known about the back then public reception.

A Closer Listen

String Quartet No. 9 features a classical four-movement structure

I. Allegro con brio (ca. 7 minutes)
II. Andantino  (ca. 7. minutes)
III. Menuetto. Allegro vivace (ca. 4 minutes)
IV. Allegro (ca. 7 minutes)

with the first two movements in sonata form, the third one a minuet and the last one in rondo form.

In the first movement, a fast and brisk sonata movement, features two themes making for a contrast between a dramatic minor key theme -in the home key G-minor- and a brighter major theme in B-fat major. It is a contrast between heaviness and lightness, between menace and cheerfulness. This contrast is plaid out twice in the exposition and recapitulated in reversed tonality in the last part of the movement. This consistent play is only briefly interrupted in an unusually short development section, which leans towards the menace: look out for some tremors and crescendi (swelling notes) in the cello, viola and the second violin, while the first violin repeats a short melodic motif. Apart from this short interlude, the chase between dramatic menace and melodic cheerfulness determines the bulk of first movement.

Equally salient is the symmetric trajectory in terms of tonality. We are lead from a gloomy minor key to a cheerful major key during the first four minutes, as a once repeated exposition, and are lowered back to the minor key in the recapitulation, when the same thematic play is resumed in the last three minutes of the movement.

The slow second movement features a sonata form as well, and it takes up the rope of the previous B-flat major, thereby cleverly ushering in its contrasting character. The second movement is more melodic and cheerful, and it presents a neat, almost danceable main theme, in contrast to a more sentimental side theme, which nevertheless appears almost like a variation of the major theme. This movement has a thematic and emotional consistency, and the also very short development section, creating a hovering atmosphere and lasting only for a few measures, only adds to this impression. The already extremely short development section has no character of its own, being merely a transition between the exposition and the recapitulation of the interaction between major and side theme.

The buoyant minuet movement is reminiscent of the corresponding movement in Mozart’s G-minor symphony and is actually a tribute to it. Along with Schubert, we pay respect and admiration tor Mozart’s influence.

The fast last movement presents itself traditionally in Rondo form. The rhythmic refrain in which the violin does most of the work is presented four times. The sections between them appear in part like variations or developments of the refrain material and is interspersed with short Baroque passages. As unusually usual as this might seem for a last movement, in particular against the background of Beethoven’s revolutionary middle period, with its penchant for withholding the emotional climax to the last movement, this shows Schubert’s reverence to the classical period and a precocious matureness already in this younger years.

References:

Curtis Performes, Schubert Quartet No. 9 in G minor, D. 173
http://curtisperforms.curtis.edu/#/video/quartet-no-9-g-minor-d-173-1-allegro-con-brio
http://curtisperforms.curtis.edu/#/video/quartet-no-9-g-minor-d-173-2-andantino
http://curtisperforms.curtis.edu/#/video/quartet-no-9-g-minor-d-173-3-menuetto
http://curtisperforms.curtis.edu/#/video/quartet-no-9-g-minor-d-173-4-allegro

[1] Composer Biographies, GroveMusic
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/education/schubert.html

[2] Wikipedia, Franz Schubert
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Schubert#Early_life_and_education

[3] AllMusic, Franz Schubert String Quartet No. 9 in G minor, D. 173
http://www.allmusic.com/composition/string-quartet-no-9-in-g-minor-d-173-mc0002371095

[4] Kammermusikkammer, Franz Schubert: Die Streichquartette
http://kammermusikkammer.blogspot.de/2010/03/franz-schubert-die-streichquartette.html

[5] Franz Schubert – String Quartets
http://www.franzpeterschubert.com/string_quartets.html

[6] Famous Composers, Franz Schubert, Documentary
Part 1: http://youtu.be/QOeS93VATck
Part 2: http://youtu.be/dpBcnPUkLmU
Part 3: http://youtu.be/CIWLIQVSNmA