The violin was Schubert’s first seriously studied instrument – barring some piano lessons with his older brother Ignaz – and a family string quartet offered him a chamber music laboratory as a young teenager. The years 1810-1811 were filled with string quartets, and in 1816 Schubert turned to solo violin works in groups of dances (including four comic Ländlers for two violins) and a set of three sonatas for violin and piano (first published posthumously as Sonatinas in an appeal to the amateur market).
Schubert composed this duo sonata for violin and piano the following year, in August 1817. (It too was posthumously published, as Op. 162 in 1851; it was not publically premiered until 1864.) It is a much more substantial work than its three predecessors, but still a transitional work, balancing the contrasting influences of Beethoven and Rossini with his own maturing lyricism.
Hardly surprising, lyricism won out. Schubert was little interested in virtuosity, and the opening theme is a sunny instrumental song. The minor mode deflection for the second subject and the harmonic and rhythmic stress of the short development are Beethovenian, but the blithe zest and utterly apt tunefulness are pure Schubert.
Beethoven’s influence is also apparent in the brusque accents and gaps of the robust Scherzo in E major, which replaced Schubert’s previously favored minuets and moved up to second position to contrast with the singing first movement. Its chromatically slithery trio section in C major prepares us for the Andantino in that key, whose placid opening is soon supplanted by harmonically mobile drama, ornamented and urged like a Rossini scena. Even the little codetta that closes the A-B-A movement is ominously ambiguous, alternating between C major and C minor.
The athletic finale seems almost a variation on the Scherzo, capturing its exuberant spirit as well as many specific motives and gestures. It also reprises the main harmonic direction of the other movements – A – E – C – in music of great energy and vivacious charm.