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Franz Schubert - Piano Quartet

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Adagio and Rondo Concertant in F, D. 487


Franz Schubert would often get so excited about a particular ensemble or grouping of instruments that he would compose, in quick succession, a considerable number of pieces, quickly exhausting, for the time being, his ideas related to that particular medium. He would then move to a different medium.

The spring and summer of 1817, for instance, saw the production of more than half a dozen piano sonatas (not all finished); late in his life there was a similar outburst of piano trios and three piano sonatas.

Against this backdrop, the Adagio and Rondo Concertante in F major, D. 487 that Schubert composed in October 1816 seems a little unusual: it is the only time during his thirty-one years of life (nearly exactly one half of which were spent actively composing) that he tackled the piano quartet.

The ensemble of violin, viola, cello, and pianoforte had not been one of composers' favorites; in fact, it is a somewhat ungainly ensemble, and the composer has to struggle to achieve textural and registral balance.


Schubert's solution, or at least his approach, to this problem is straightforward enough: he abandons the egalitarianism of instrumentation that by his time was an accepted aspect of chamber music and instead puts the spotlight more brightly on one of the players -- the pianist -- than on any of the other three.

The piano is in fact so predominant, especially after we have passed through the molto legato Adagio and entered the Rondo portion, that the tendency to make the work sound like a piano concerto with a severely reduced orchestra is sometimes tough for players to avoid (while the writing of the piece was prompted by one of Schubert's cellist friends, it is nevertheless quite a pianistic work).

This is a remarkably vital piece of music, and listeners are particularly charmed by the Rondo's joyful energy. Curiously enough, this Rondo is actually not in rondo form at all, but is rather an abridged sonata-allegro in which there is no development section per se. A pure example of “Hausmusik” (music for the home) destined to enliven an evening with friends or family.


Adagio

Rondo

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