What if… what if it were possible to manipulate time and arrange a meeting between Franz Schubert and Pyotr Tchaikovsky? So here is Schubert in a Kaffeehaus in Vienna, reading a paper, sipping a beer. The door opens and an elderly man enters. He takes off his hat, unfastens the buttons of his heavy coat and looks around. The room is blue with tobacco smoke. Suddenly the man’s eyes light up and he draws closer to Schubert’s table: “Ahem, good day, Sir. I beg your pardon, but I’ve been looking for you.” Schubert looks up, lowers the paper. Hesitantly the man ventures: “My name is Tchaikovsky. I am a composer from Russia. You can’t possibly know me…”
Schubert stares at him, then he says: “Please, have a seat. A drink? Waiter, a beer for this gentleman.” Slowly Tchaikovsky takes his seat and says: “I am a great admirer of your piano works. You have written a sonata in C minor that strikes me in a particular way. You see, the idea of fate is haunting me. To express this anxiety – you understand?” Schubert smiles warily and says: “Fate – oh yes, I see what you mean.” And after a pause he adds: “Aren’t we all doomed?”
Schubert wrote his Piano Sonata No. 19 in C Minor, D. 958 in September 1828, two months before his death. The first movement starts with massive punctuated chords, a dramatic introduction with a bass line reminding of Beethoven. In the last third Schubert uses these punctuated chords again forming a delicate contrast on the melodic theme of the right hand. The second movement – so tender, so fragile, like rich black chocolate melting on your tongue. But then, an insisting hammering theme, brutal, violent, you can taste sadness, bitterness.
“Some tranquility is found in the Menuetto [the third movement], but the graceful dancing pulse of that movement is banished with the furious and desperate tarantella rhythms of the concluding Allegro. There is to be no Beethovenian triumph at the end. The galloping night-ride ends in darkness.” Ha! This is a brilliant summary I found in a program note of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. That last movement marked by a hundred bars long galopade is a weird… thing. Unsettling. Immense.
Listen. To. This. It has been recorded by Mitsuko Uchida. And it’s huge.
© Charles Thibo