A young composer always on the edge

Fractures. © Charles Thibo

Impatience. That’s most likely one of my most characteristic traits. Impatience is one of the traits of Franz Schubert’s String Quartet in B flat major (D.112, Op. posth. 168). Perhaps that is why like it so much. Interestingly I become rather relaxed when I listen to it, just as if Schubert’s impatience is neutralizing my own impatience.

Schubert composed this early quartet within two weeks in September 1814. However, multiple sources indicate that he initially had a trio in mind. He cared to note that the first movement was written with 5 1/2 hours. The musicologist Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen explains that Schubert considered the traditional sonata* form a challenge and according to this scholar, D.112 is one of the first cases where Schubert breaks away from the classical model. D.173, the String Quartet in G minor, that I have discussed in a post in December 2017, is another of these early experiments.

I must confess that the deviations from the standard sonata form that Hinrichsen describes in great detail are beyond my comprehension, so I will not even attempt to explain them. Suffice to say that Schubert’s innovations are selective and that the quartet obeys mostly the rules set by Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I guess Schubert first had to convince himself about these innovations, then the members of the family quartet and finally his friends, to register their reaction before he would become more daring and do away with most of the traditional principles.

Composing after Beethoven

After all Vienna was a conservative place, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s shadow was overwhelming. How could anyone compose anything sensible and of lasting value after Beethoven? Symphonies, trios, quartets, sonatas – Beethoven had excelled in all these genres, and the only way to compose something outstanding – in the literal sense of the word – was to break radically with tradition. But Schubert had barely reached the age of 17 and he could not yet pretend to challenge Beethoven who was not only alive when Schubert composed the quartet, but at the beginning of a last creative phase.

So what is it that I specifically like about this quartet and Schubert’s quartets in general? I like the fractures in Schubert’s music, the awkward elements and the composer’s genius to embed these in beautiful, song-like melodies. Schubert reflect’s his extreme sensitivity for the breaking points in human life in his music without even trying to please. I like Schubert’s honesty. Schubert – always on the edge!

The String Quartet in B flat major has been recorded by the Melos Quartett.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.