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Of the so-called "Viennese masters," only Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was actually born and raised in that city. Surprisingly, the composer of more than 600 art songs, or lieder, and eleven sonatas for piano did not, for most of his creative life, own a piano. A great deal of composing was done at a writing table, to be revised later at a borrowed piano in the home of a friend.
Schubert's music languished for most of the nineteenth century, due to the widespread belief that the sonata was to be found in the works of Beethoven, and Schubert's distinctive style was looked upon as an anomaly. The great master of lieder, it was believed, was incapable of handling extended pianistic composition. Although only a tiny fraction of Schubert's music was published during his lifetime, his solo and chamber music fills a comparatively large space in his instrumental writing. The history of the unpublished manuscripts is extremely difficult to unravel; many gathered dust for decades on the shelves of his heirs and publishers, while others passed obscurely from one private collector to another until they came into the public domain.
It was not until 1928, in honor of the centennial of the composer's death, that Artur Schnabel wrote in New York's Musical Courier, "Schubert's piano sonatas rank with the greatest works of their kind; not even a juxtaposition of Beethoven's masterpieces can obscure their beauty or weaken their emotional power." This pronouncement by such an acclaimed pianist on works that had long been considered historical oddities led to a re-evaluation of Schubert, one of the most prolific composers of all time.
During the year of 1815 in a burst of productivity that seems unbelievable today, the eighteen-year-old Schubert composed his Third Symphony, a string quartet, two complete one-act operas and fragments of two others, two masses, several short pieces of sacred music, choruses, and a number of miscellaneous works. 1815 was the year of great advance in the field of the song. Schubert wrote more than 140 lieder in the course of this one year, and in at least this respect, discovered his musical language.
The Sonata in E major, D. 157 bears the completion date of February 18, 1815. It is Schubert's first sonata for piano. The work is unfinished, there are only three movements and there is no finale. The first movement, Allegro, ma non troppo is built upon a sturdy, fanfare-like theme using ascending arpeggios and descending scales. The second theme, accompanied by Albert basses, is highly suggestive of Beethoven's piano style of the 1790's. The E minor Andante is unequivocally modeled on Mozart's A minor Rondo, K. 411, although the stormy third section is unmistakably Schubertian.
Schubert must have particularly liked the last existing movement as it is the strongest of the three: ten years later he borowed the principal theme of the trio in his D major Sonata, D. 850. The Allegro vivace minuet of this first piano sonata pairs vigorous melodic composition with ingenious chromatic harmony.
Notes by Ileen Zovluck. © 2000 Columbia Artists Management Inc.