Schubert composed four Violin Sonatas in his teens, but none of them were published until after his death. In 1826 he wrote this Rondo in B minor for violin and piano, one of only three chamber works (out of a vast output in this genre) to be published in his lifetime. It appeared in 1827 as Op. 70, shortly after being performed for the first time at the publisher’s house. Normally, with Schubert, one might suspect an isolated Rondo to be a movement from a larger work detached in error, but in this case there are no other movements to pair it with, and its very enormity confirms that the work is whole and complete on its own.
Enormous it is, with a grand slow introduction and an Allegro of over 600 bars. The Andante already offers a taste of the free and sometimes rapid shifting from key to key that will pervade the Allegro, and it cleverly homes in, in both violin and piano parts, on the two notes, a rising whole step, that will launch the rondo theme itself.
The expansiveness of the movement is determined not by the main rondo theme itself, but by the episodes that separate its appearances. These episodes are lush prairies of melody and modulation, as we find in all Schubert’s instrumental music, as if he would rather allow his fantasy to roam just once more before returning to the rondo theme. And this adventurous progress is driven by Schubert’s unstoppable rhythmic sense, right up to the final bar.