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Name of Work

Schubert, Franz (1797-1828)
Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 114 (D. 667), the "Trout" (2006)

Allegro vivace
Scherzo: Presto - Trio
Theme & Variations: Andantino
Finale: Allegro giusto


Sep 17, 2006

Deborah Sobol, Piano
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass

Sep 18, 2006

Deborah Sobol, Piano
Jasmine Lin, Violin
Rami Solomonow, Viola
Stephen Balderston, Cello
Bradley Opland, Double bass

SCHUBERT-Quintet in A Major, D. 667, Op. 114 (Trout)

Composed in 1819

Schubert was 21 in the year 1818, when he resigned from the only fulltime, paying job he ever held, that of an elementary-grades teacher in the school of which his father was the principal. Dramatically rejecting his father's influence and advice by this gesture, he was determined to commit himself to a career in composition. The decision would translate into a rather precarious existence, financially, but he started with fairly good prospects, high ambitions and – most importantly – the loving support of admiring friends.

He received a job offer almost immediately, though it was for summer only, and once again involved teaching, a duty he disliked, but it least this time it was teaching piano to the daughters of Count Johann Esterhazy, whose forebears had employed Haydn some 50 years earlier. The Esterhazy country estate was in the Hungarian countryside, and it turned into a happy summer. (There was a similar sojourn at Esterhaza in the summer of 1824, when Schubert is reputed to have fallen in love with one of the daughters, named Caroline.) Back in Vienna in fall 1818, he shared lodgings with a friend, the poet Johann Mayrhofer, and set to work on a new opera, Die Zwillingsbrueder (The Twin Brothers), with a dual leading role for yet another friend, the tenor Michael Vogl, probably the most influential member of his circle of associates.

A prominent, successful opera singer, Vogl arranged a performance of the new work, but it failed. The tenor did more for Schubert by performing his songs, popularizing them in both Austria and Germany; in 1819, he also took Schubert along on a famous summer holiday to his hometown of Steyr, in an area of rural Austria that the composer once called "inconceivably lovely." His music was already known in Steyr, and he wrote to Mayrhofer, "I have been very well entertained [here] and shall continue to be." The leader of Steyrian musical life was wealthy businessman and amateur cellist Sylvester Paumgartner, who commissioned Schubert to write a piece of chamber music with rather precise outlines. He wanted it scored for piano, violin, viola, cello, and double bass – paralleling a quintet by Johann Nepomuk Hummel that he especially liked – and he wanted it to contain variations on his favorite piece by Schubert, the song Die Forelle (The Trout). Schubert set to work in Steyr and finished the piece in Vienna in the fall. It was not published until after his death, and the original manuscript has disappeared.

Schubert biographer Maurice J. E. Brown has commented, "It has been well suggested that the Steyr countryside was a secret collaborator in the quintet; it is even fortunate in its nickname, with its suggestion of cool, sun-flecked water." Surely there are few more cheerful, bright compositions in all of chamber music.

Written in 1817, Die Forelle quickly became one of Schubert's most popular songs; it was not only Herr Paumgartner who was captivated by it. It was always in demand at the gatherings of the composer's friends that came to be known as Schubertiades. That word means simply an occasion to enjoy music by Schubert; nowadays, as tonight, it's in a concert setting, but in early 19th-century Vienna, the events took place in private homes. Accounts of them survive in letters, diaries, and memoirs of the time, and they remind us of the sad fact that Schubert's music was not often played in public, during his lifetime.

In the Allegro vivace of the Trout Quintet, the piano begins with a flourishing motive that is quickly contrasted with a slower-moving figure laid out in sustained half-notes, and the key of A major is briefly intruded upon by F major. This is not in accordance with tradition, since the keys of A and F do not stand in a tonic-dominant relationship to each other. They have, instead, "the relationship of the third," meaning that their starting notes are a major third apart. Harmonic theory states that the tonic-dominant relationship has the ultimate effect of reinforcing the basic tonality, the home key; the relationship of the third has the effect of elaborating on the melodic and harmonic ideas rather than setting up a confrontation and synthesis. So even in his very first measures, Schubert is giving us an inkling of where he intends to go: toward elaboration and variation, rather than toward traditional development.

When the first theme appears, it is an eight-bar phrase combining the two original motives presented over an eighth-note accompaniment. The second theme is closely related to the first; the expected dominant key, E major, is reached, but there is also a sudden modulation to C major – once again, the relationship of the third – to provide unexpected harmonic commentary. The development section of the movement is a series of ingenious elaborations on the themes already presented, anticipating in a way the theme-and-variations procedure that will characterize the fourth movement.

The effect of the opening movement of the Trout is less that of standard sonata form than of an A-B-A structure, with close thematic interrelationships, the element of contrast and variety being provided by unusual modulations.

Three main themes are presented in the Andante; once again, their repetitions are fairly exact, but they take on unusual colors from the key sequence. The home key of the Andante is F major, which had importance in the first movement. From F, Schubert takes his players first into F-sharp minor – the relative minor of A major, the basic tonic of the work as a whole. Then we hear D major, G major, A-flat major, A minor, and F major once again. The Scherzo movement has the fastest tempo we've heard so far. Its texture varies between a kind of dialogue with the piano on one side and the strings on the other, against passages wherein individual string players are spotlighted. This latter anticipates some of the soloistic writing we will hear in the variations movement. The portion stands in lyrical contrast.

Though the Andantino Theme and Variations has been characterized as another slow movement, paralleling the Andante, neither Andante nor Andantino should be considered as "slow." Both are derived from an Italian verb for "walking." The pace of the song itself dictates that the pace should be upbeat without being rushed. The key is D major, and the song theme is presented first by the strings, and then the piano takes it up for Variation 1. The emphasis on the piano in this movement recalls how much the so-called keyboard accompaniment in the song contributes to its overall effect; also in this movement, we hear the cello with special prominence, recalling the instrument Herr Paumgartner played. The second and third variations involve rippling melodic decorations, then the mood changes suddenly for a variation in D minor, which transforms the theme and casts it into an entirely different light. An additional variation takes us to the key of B-flat major, another "relationship of the third," with decorations derived from melodic fragments of the song tune. The movement concludes with a restatement, back home in D major.

The tempo of the finale is Allegro giusto, which implies strict rhythm. Its fast pace is in strong contrast to the leisureliness of the variations. The themes are straightforwardly set out then developed with recollections from earlier motives, including the theme of the fourth movement. The recapitulation is once again, as in earlier movements, quite exact, and the five players come to a triumphant and upbeat conclusion to a joyous piece.

Program Notes written by Andrea Lamoreaux

Performance date: September 17 & 18, 2006

Performance Audio

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