Saturday, October 15, 2011

Schubert - String Quartet No. 14 In D Minor 'Death and The Maiden'

Franz Schubert (1797 -1828) was an Austrian composer who died when he was 31 years of age. He was a musical prodigy and played the violin, viola, piano, guitar and had a fine singing voice. Despite his early death, Schubert composed a large amount of music, some 600 lieder, 9 symphonies, operas, much chamber music and many pieces for piano.

Schubert's 14th Quartet got its name 'Death and The Maiden'  from the fact that he had composed a song to a poem of the same name in 1817 and he based the second movement variations on the piano accompaniment to the song.  The quartet was written in 1824 while Schubert was trying to recover from a serious illness that ended up being the later stages of syphilis, the disease that finally killed him.   It was first performed in a private home in 1826 , but wasn't published until after Schubert's death.

The gloom of death haunts all four movements of the quartet, from the driving pace and frantic dynamics of the first movement, to the haunting variations of the second movement based on the song 'Death and The Maiden', to the short and ominous Scherzo of the 3rd movement and finally to the dizzying tarantella, a dance of death, that closes the work.

The song 'Death And The Maiden' was set to words from a poem by the German poet Matthias Claudius.  A few lines of the poem translated to English: 

The Maiden:
Pass me by! Oh, pass me by!
Go, fierce man of bones!
I am still young! Go, rather,
And do not touch me.
And do not touch me.

Death:
Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender form!
I am a friend, and come not to punish.
Be of good cheer! I am not fierce,
Softly shall you sleep in my arms!

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