Thursday, January 19, 2012

Beethoven & Schubert, Together Again

Schubert in 1825
This Saturday evening, Michael Brown brings sonatas by Beethoven and Schubert to Whitaker Center.

This post is about Schubert's changing view of Beethoven. You can listen to both sonatas here and take a "walking tour" of Beethoven's "Pastoral" Sonata here.

At my other blog, you can read more detail about the summer holiday in 1825 when Schubert composed his D Major Piano Sonata, D.850, and another work that most likely became the "Great" C Major Symphony which he was working on at the same time.

In 1816, Schubert – all of 19 years old – wrote about a celebration in honor his old teacher, Antonio Salieri – yes, that Antonio Salieri – surrounded by students, many of whom had composed works specifically for the occasion (the 50th Anniversary of his arrival in Vienna).

“It must be fine… to hear in all [his students’] compositions the expression of pure nature, free from all the eccentricity that is common among most composers nowadays, [which] is due almost wholly to one of our greatest German artists; that eccentricity which combines and confuses the tragic with the comic, the agreeable with the repulsive, heroism with howlings and that which is most holy with harlequinades…”

This was a not too thinly veiled reference to Beethoven who, at that same time, was working on what’s considered the first of his late piano sonatas, the A Major Sonata, Op. 101. The 7th and 8th Symphonies had been written 4-5 years earlier, and the “middle quartets” completed 6 years earlier. The 9th Symphony and the other late works – sonatas and quartets – were around the corner.

But by 1823, Schubert had started writing a symphony in B Minor in which, following Beethoven’s example, he sought to expand the forms he had been working with – sonatas, quartets and especially symphonies. Several incomplete symphonies attest to his struggles with these “expanded forms.”

His last quartet – the G Major Quartet written in 10 days in June, 1826, when he was 28 – was clearly influenced by Beethoven’s most recent quartets. The 1st movement was even premiered by Schuppanzigh’s Quartet, closely associated with premieres of Beethoven’s music. This work should have been part of Schubert’s “Middle Period” but since he died at the age of 31, we must consider this “Late Schubert.” It’s all relative.

In 1827, Schubert would be a pallbearer at Beethoven’s funeral.

Five days before his own death the following year, Schubert requested friends play Beethoven’s String Quartet in C-sharp Minor, Op.131, for him during which he became so “overcome by such transports of delight and enthusiasm,” he was in such an emotional state by the end of the performance, his friends feared for his health. The story he began hallucinating about Beethoven’s grave may be a fabrication of his brother Ferdinand’s but in the end, he was buried in a grave close to Beethoven’s.

Mozart's Memorial; Beethoven's & Schubert's Graves

No comments:

Post a Comment