It is a cruel fact that much of the output of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) languished unpublished for years after his death at the age of 31. In fact, his "Great" C-major Symphony was unknown until discovered among the late composer's papers by Schumann during his short Vienna stay in 1838.
Of Schubert's 12 complete solo piano sonatas (and almost as many incomplete sonata fragments), only three saw publication during the composer's lifetime - the Sonata in G, D. 894 being the last. Eclipsed by Beethoven's work in the medium, Schubert's sonatas fell into obscurity for nearly a century before being recovered by pianists and audiences.
The G-major Sonata of 1826 was hailed by Schumann as being Schubert's "most perfect in form and conception." Ironically, it was first published in 1827 as Fantasie, Andante, Menuetto und Allegretto, Op. 78 - a publisher's decision, perhaps to make the music more commercially appealing as a collection of individual pieces rather than one large composition. Decades later it would still be referred to as the "Fantasia" Sonata.
The profoundly serene opening G chords remind us of the hushed opening of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto, anticipating a characteristically Schubertian calm stasis. Surely this is music that is overheard rather than heard. Only once does the music raise its voice in a minor-key passage at the beginning of the development section when dynamics rise to fff - the one and only time Schubert uses this indication in his piano music (!).
The opening of the second movement Andante is deceptively placid. Minor key outbursts disrupt the entire movement before the opening mood is restored in a concluding triple pianissimo.
The Menuetto seems to be anything but a lighthearted dance, opening as it does, gruffly in B minor. Gracefulness enters temporarily with the lilting central trio section.
A pastoral cheerfulness predominates in the concluding Allegretto, which ends quietly with a delicate restatement of its opening measures.
- Annotator Grant Hiroshima is the executive director of a private foundation and the former director of Information Technology for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.