Whenever I go for a walk in the woods, I bring back at least a couple of pictures I label “natural beauty”. The grass above grows on an Alpine mountain in Austria and it struck me by its symmetry, its delicate aspect and its actual robustness. The afternoon sun’s reflection on its polished straws gave it a kind of shimmering halo – truly beautiful. These attributes match a work written by Franz Schubert towards the end of his career, in December 1827, eleven months before his death: the Fantasy for Violin and Piano in C major, Op. 159 D. 934.
The Schubert expert Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen calls it one of Schubert’s most extroverted pieces, emphasizing its technical brilliance, the expertly effects and its clever cyclical architecture. It is written in one movement and a song-like theme forms its center of gravity, surrounded by several variations of that theme. The violinist Antje Weithaas said in an interview with the score editor Henle that the challenge for a violinist is to find a different color for each variation and to give the audience an impression of creative spontaneity when performing the many ornamental elements.
The fantasy unfolds its attractiveness through its joyful, relaxed, even detached mood – a rarity among Schubert’s works. Long ago he has become my personal tragic hero of German Romanticism, in this piece however there is no tragedy, not even melancholy, just an extended reveling in deeply felt, honest emotions. One of the key signatures of Schubert’s works – the dominance of calm (piano) elements, the nearly total absence of loud (forte) passages – can be found in this work too. Weithass calls the composer the master of expressing silent moods and while still writing in a virtuosic style, Schubert never reverts to a boisterous, extravagant language.
And with that I will return to silence too, because there is little more to say about this piece and you will enjoy much more listening to the fantasy than reading about it. I recommend the recording by Antje Weithaas and Silke Avenhaus.
© Charles Thibo