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When discussing the last great period of Schubert's productivity, you cannot talk in terms of years. You must talk in terms of short months. In March of his final year, 1828, the only public concert in the composer's lifetime to feature exclusively Schubert's own music was held in honor of the first anniversary of Beethoven's death. The financial success of the evening gave the composer a much-needed monetary respite, and an ensuing burst of springtime creativity would leave us with the richest musical legacy of his career. But it would not last long. The ravages of syphilis brought his composing nearly to a halt in August. By the middle of November, Schubert was dead, not yet 32.
The Three Piano Pieces of D. 946 were dated May 1828, but left un-titled and were not published until they were collected and edited by Brahms (anonymously) in 1868. The first, in E-flat minor, features a recurring, restless, and foreboding leading section interrupted by two different serene meditations. The second of these was deleted by the composer in his manuscript, but Brahms restored the bars in his first edition. The complete critical edition published by Breitkopf & Härtel in 1888 chose to abandon the restoration, but few pianists are willing to pass up this haunting passage. The second piece, in E-flat major, reverses the order of the first, alternating a calm introduction with subsequent stormy measures, while the final piece, in a sunny C major, dances along in irregular phrases and folk-dance syncopations.
-- Grant Hiroshima is executive director of a private foundation in Chicago and former Director of Technology Development for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.