Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Schubert - String Quintet In C Major D. 956

Schubert's String Quintet In C Major adds a second cello to a standard string quartet setting instead of a second viola as Mozart and Beethoven did in their string quintets. No one knows why Schubert chose an extra cello for his quintet, but the result is music that uses the added depth and sonority of the second cello to good advantage.

Schubert composed the quintet in 1828, and wrote to a publisher offering it along with other works. In the letter Schubert says that rehearsals for the quintet were to begin in a few days, but it isn't certain if this ever happened. The music publisher refused the quintet, and it lay forgotten until it was rediscovered and had its first known public performance in 1850. It was published three years later in 1853, and came to be regarded by Schumann and a young Brahms to be one of the finest chamber music work ever written.

The quintet is like the other handful of masterpieces Schubert wrote in his last months of life that expanded the form and content of music.  It is in 4 movements:

I. Allegro ma non troppo -  This is an example of Schubert's expanded first movement settings as it takes roughly a third of the playing time of the entire work. With a wealth of thematic material and a rich harmonic language, this movement alone takes about 19 minutes to play. It starts with a dynamic swell that begins on the chord of C major but at the crest of the swell the chord changes to what can be defined as a C diminished seventh, a minor chord.
A short section leads to a different tonally ambiguous chord exchange, and now the music  reveals that this is not an introduction, but a thematic group that continues in kaleidoscopic harmonies until a second theme in E-flat is stated by the cellos:

This theme moves to the higher strings and is repeated.  A section in G major brings the music back to the second theme and the exposition is repeated. The development section alternates between the serene and the dramatic as the music spotlights sections of themes in a dizzying array of major and minor keys. Schubert manages to segue from one to the other effortlessly until the recapitulation brings the music back to the beginning chords. Key changes continue as Schubert blends themes and keys as a painter blends colors and shadows. The coda gives a sense of continuing the themes even farther as the opening chords are heard again along with a modulation, but it is actually a summing up as Schubert winds down the movement and the music ends firmly in C major.

II. Adagio - The second movement is in E major, and begins with a tender theme played by second violin and viola. The first violin plays an accompanying figure as the one cello adds harmonic depth to the theme while the second cello plays a pizzicato accompaniment:
The instruments blend together as the music gently and slowly flows on its way, getting even more quiet as it goes, until a crescendo of trills leads to an agitated middle section in F minor. A quiet section coaxes the tender theme back for a replaying, but this time with a varied accompaniment which adds a slight nervous edge to it. Near the end, the trilled crescendo that lead to the agitated middle section makes a brief appearance in the first violin, but as quickly as it came it retreats as the music comes to an end in E major.

III. Scherzo: Presto – Trio: Andante sostenuto -  Schubert returns to the home key of C major as he increases the loudness and sonority of the five instruments by playing 9-note chords at fortissimo in this boisterous scherzo:
The trio section generally is in contrast to the scherzo itself, but Schubert makes an extreme contrast, first of all with the key change from C major to D-flat major, a key that is quite remote from the home key. The tempo also slows as the mysterious music of the trio quietly hesitates its way to a repeat of the scherzo.

IV. Allegretto - Schubert's first theme of this movement is reminiscent of the dance music he was fond of. The movement is in the form of a rondo with elements of sonata form as well, a hybrid of the two forms. The key has returned to C major (although the theme begins in shadows of C minor), and the violin plays the theme as the other instruments give an accompaniment:
 The second theme is a graceful tune in G major played by the first violin and first cello:
Schubert's melodic gifts were second to none, so along with these two themes there are other tunes and parts of tunes that appear. After Schubert has ran his course with these themes, he builds up excitement by increasing the tempo in the coda. With a triple forte passage, Schubert leads to the final notes, a D-flat grace note before the final unison C, thus ends a work that constantly moves from profound beauty to despair and back again with an intensity that was the beginning of the Romantic era in music.

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