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Franz Schubert - Sonata in E major, D. 459

Music > Piano Music > Piano Sonatas

In the case of the Sonata in E major, D. 459 (composed 1816), Schubert left posterity not with a movement too few, but with one too many. The work was first published sixty years after Schubert's death under the title of Funf Kiavierstucke (Five Piano Pieces). and it was only when his fragmentary autograph resurfaced In the 1930s that the work was recognised as a sonata. It is usually thought that if Schubert had prepared it for publication himself, he would have suppressed one of the two scherzo movements. However, the scherzos are utterly different not only in character, but also in form. The first is, in fact, not a conventional scherzo and trio at all, but a piece in sonata form, complete with a repeat of the exposition.

The possibility therefore remains that it is not the scherzos that are alternatives, but that the first scherzo is Schubert's second attempt at an opening movement or that it represents his first idea for the sonata's finale. Be that as it may, all five pieces show a remarkable advance over Schubert's first piano sonata, after a gap of only eighteen months.

The hallmarks of mature Schubert are immediately evident in the relaxed lyrical style of the opening Allegro. It is, moreover, a piece in which each phrase grows with logic out of the last; and its central development section, although brief, is an impressively assured piece of writing. The heart of the work in every sense is, however, its slow movement, a piece in which simplicity of utterance and profundity of thought go hand in hand. Part of its effect lies in the switch of key, from the bright E major of the sonata's home tonality to a sonorous C major; but there is also a newfound note of pathos in the change to the minor immediately following the main theme.

The second scherzo, in A major, offers another instance of long-range anticipation. As for the trio, in a slower tempo, it is in Schubert's inimitable Landler style. The finale bears the unusual tempo marking of Allegro patetico. It is a piece in which Schubert appears to be striving after the virtuoso style of Hummel and Weber. Perhaps its most remarkable feature is the manner in which the start of the recapitulation is startlingly broken off, and the music plunges into further, prolonged development before the re-appearance of the contrasting second subject; but the presence of a lengthy coda rounding the work off in grand style shows how lofty Schubert's aspirations were.

Allegro Moderato
Scherzo Allegro
Scherzo Allegro - Trio Piu Tardo
Allegro Patetico

Listen to the Sonata in E major, D. 459

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