A milestone in Schubert’s personal development

Kitsch, no doubt. © Charles Thibo

Be yourself, be authentic – any personal coach will tell you this is the road to success. Being authentic – and I looked this up in a respectable dictionary – means “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” by expressing one’s core beliefs at all times. Let’s have a closer look at this: Firstly you need to have core beliefs and secondly both you and the people around you are aware of these. It postulates the existence of a personal norm against which your behaviour is judged as deviant or not. Once you overdo it in one or another direction, you become a fake, possibly an impostor or a liar. If a Romantic composer exaggerated the emotional aspect of its musical language, his music would be deemed “kitsch”. The ultimate verdict!

On being authentic

Franz Schubert did not fall into the trap. Which was not obvious. German Romanticism very much emphasized emotions as a true expression of one’s own personality, spirit, or character. Being Romantic and authentic without being kitsch – quite a challenge! But then again in 1817 Schubert was young, fully motivated and did not have to worry much about the judgment of others. A year earlier he had written three sonatas for violin and piano (see that earlier post) which demonstrated his willingness to experiment with formal aspects and to look for emotional depth without being superficial or overdoing it. The Duo Sonata in A major (Op. posth. 162 D.574) is a milestone in this personal development.

Schubert had by then defined some formal core principles for his sonatas: four movements, the use of three related keys – in our case A major, C major and E major – and a surprising modulation through the reinterpretation of the tonic keynote. Schubert’s Duo Sonata in A major also is the first that makes the piano an equal parter of the violin. Schubert practiced the violin from an early age on, and this piece testifies of his growing confidence to write music for the piano.

Changing keys, tempi and moods

The piece starts with a slow introduction, the piano merely accompanying the lyrical violin theme. But rather quickly the piece accelerates and an elaboration of the opening piano figure takes shape. The short and cocky scherzo opens with a piano fanfare and a hasty violin theme, the key changes from C to E make this movement a buoyant piece of music. The third movement offers a brutal contrast: andantino. Schubert slowly walks us through a pensive, subdued mood, interrupted by a few outbursts of the violin, echoed by the piano. The last movement takes up the mood of the scherzo – brisk, determined, joyful up to the end.

Such a lovely piece! One of my favourite violinists, Julia Fischer, and the German pianist Martin Helmchen have recorded it in 2010.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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