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Franz Schubert - Piano Four Hands

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Schubert's unsurpassed achievement in the piano duet includes dances, marches, variation sets, overtures, fantasies, divertissements and sonatas. He clearly held these works in high esteem. His first published piano duet was released in 1822 with the dedication 'To Ludwig van Beethoven, from his worshipper and admirer Franz Schubert' and he is said to have delivered the work personally to the older master.

Schubert wrote more four-hand piano music than any other great composer, all of it enjoyable, some of it amongst his finest music. The most famous, though not the best, is the first of the 3 Marches militaires, D. 733. In the same category, but at a markedly higher artistic level, are the high-spirited 2 Marches caractéristiques, D. 886 and, much lengthier, the once tremendously popular Divertissement à l’hongroise, D. 818.

The most imposing is the very substantial Sonata in C ‘Grand Duo’, D. 812, truly symphonic in dimensions and character, and so orchestral in conception that it was long thought to be a piano arrangement of the missing 'Gmunden-Gasteiner' symphony. Schubert's piano duets are often orchestral in nature. The 'Grand Duo' has been orchestrated several times, most notably by Joseph Joachim, as have the F Minor Fantasie and the famous 'Military March' among other duets.

The best of Schubert's duets, however, is the extraordinary Fantasie in F minor, D. 940, a work whose tragic essence is all the more affecting for the sweetness in it. Many musicians would cite it as the finest four-hand work ever written (its only rivals being two sonatas by Mozart, K. 497 and 521). Shorter but if anything even finer is the passionate Allegro in A minor (‘Lebensstürme’), D. 947, a marvellously involving work.

Schubert wrote his greatest piano duets in the miraculously productive last year of his life as he continued his compositional experimentation. There is no doubt that Schubert's piano duets place great demands on their performer's sense of timbre, intelligence, speed of reaction and concern for detail. They are difficult, but certainly not unplayable.

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