49.5813° N 6.3088° E is the position of one of my meditation spots. It lies on my way home when I drive to or come from work, and when I have had a particularly busy day at the office, I sometimes stop there for a few minutes to contemplate the landscape, its colors changing with the seasons or a particularly nice sunset. On the day I wrote this post, December 28, it wasn’t the need for a quiet moment that made me stop there. As I drove by, I noticed for the first time the particular shape of that broken tree with the blue morning sky in the background. A castle in ruins? A finger pointing to the sky?
A magic mystic moment
I stopped just for a few minutes, and since that small country road is a very quiet one, all I heard was the CD player in my car: Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in E minor, D.566/506, performed by Paul Badura-Skoda. A magic mystic moment – the sight of the tree and that deeply Romantic piece. Schubert wrote it in the summer of 1817, and it is not clear whether it was intended to be played as it is on my recording or whether the rondo (the fourth movement) is a fragment of another piece. Hence the two opus numbers: D.566 identifying the first three movements and D.506 for the rondo.
While writing and re-writing th post, I listened several times to that sonata. And it is only now, ten hours before its scheduled time of publishing, that I realize that he sonata reminds me a lot on Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano in A minor, D.821, written in 1824, that I have discussed in an earlier post. This is less odd than it seems. It is not unheard of that composers recycle their themes or melodic figures. And 1824 like 1817 was a year of distress, where Schubert had to deal emotionally with the absence of many of his friends from Vienna.
Schober, the precious friend
The fragmentary character of the piece could be explained from Schubert’s state of mind in the summer of 1817. He was on a mental and emotional quest. In 1816, he had refused to teach for another year at his father’s school in Vienna and had moved into the house of his dandy friend and supporter, the poet and librettist Franz von Schober. Schubert was 20 years old, he had just completed a substantial number of compositions, mainly song cycles, and must have felt that his father’s world was becoming too small for him.
Schober was both cultivated and very gifted. And he was financially independent. The friendship of the two men meant a lot to Schubert as it worked as a catalyst to sharpened Schubert’s sensitiviy and encouraged him to express more freely his ideas and feelings in music. Through Schober, he enlarged his circle of friends and opened his mind to new ideas, influences. He began to discover and study the genius of Mozart.
Torn between two worlds
Had Schubert finally found his place? No. Though he stayed with Schober, he maintainer a close contact with his family and old friends. He was torn between two worlds: On the one hand his family, to whom he was deeply attached and the safety it stood for, and – equally important – his father, whom he respected, but who had little understanding for his son’s music and was worried about his professional future. On the other hand, Schober, his circle of friends – almost exclusively composers, musicians, poet, painters – and the artistic freedom they symbolized.
Something must have happened over the summer when Schubert wrote that sonata, because he reversed his decision in the autumn of 1817, he moved abruptly moved back to his father’s house. Financial difficulties might have been he reason, because Schober’s way of life was beyond Schubert’s possibilities. What it exactly was, remains unclear. Schubert’s correspondence is not exactly abundant, in his letters, he rarely speaks about himself. And as historians have found out, we cannot trust the memories of Schubert’s friends.
Obviously this is the last post for 2015 and I hope you will find the time to enjoy this short sonata. Don’t rush things at the end of the year. 2016 will have an extra day in February! Good luck in all your endeavours!
© Charles Thibo