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Franz Schubert - Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960

Music > Piano Music > Piano Sonatas

This sonata was to be Schubert's last. The breadth and majesty of the first movement spring from the opening theme; this is a long drawn and beautiful melody whose equal notes move stepwise in the manner of many of the themes of Schubert's last year. The calm main theme itself is so broad as to be almost hymn-like. One of the most striking is the long and careful preparation for the return of B-flat major at the end of the development section, where the key of D minor is slowly quitted until at length we hear a soft trill on a bass note and the home key is reached.

The Andante Sostenuto in C-sharp minor is a movement comparable in style to the slow movement of the great String Quartet in C, D. 956, composed during the same period. Toward the end of the movement there is a remarkable key shift, from C-sharp minor to C major, illustrating the prmciple of Schubert's tonality as an intellectual motivation.

In the main section, a somber melody is presented over a relentless rocking rhythm. The central section is written in A major, and presents a choral melody over an animated accompaniment; it later touches upon B-flat major, the sonata's home key. The main section returns with a variant of the original accompanying rhythm. This time, the tonal scheme is more unusual: after a half cadence on the dominant, a sudden, mysterious harmonic shift introduces the remote key of C major. This eventually turns into E major, and proceeds as before. The coda shifts to the tonic major, but is still haunted by glimpses of the minor mode.

The Scherzo is a con delicatezza and carefully devised section providing an excellent contrast to the emotional depths of the first two movements. The first part of the scherzo proper cadences not in the tonic or dominant, but in the subdominant. The second, B part, continues to modulate by ascending fourths, until it reaches the key of D-flat major. In this key, a new theme is presented, and the local subdominant (G-flat major, a further fourth upward) is emphasized, first in the major mode, then in the minor, with an enharmonic shift to F-sharp minor. This harmonic excursion eventually leads, through A major and a diminished triad, back to the tonic and the opening section. The trio is in binary form and in B-flat minor, bringing back again the serious tone that generally prevails.

The finale has the same structure as that of the previous sonata. The main theme opens with an 'empty' octave on G, which resolves to C minor, subsequently interpreted as V of II in B-flat major. The second theme, in ternary form, is written in the traditional key of the dominant, with a central section in D major; it consists of a long, "endless" melody played over an uninterrupted flow of semiquavers. A third theme, based on a dotted rhythm, follows, beginning in F minor, fortissimo, and then shifting back to the major mode, pianissimo. This theme eventually leads back to the main theme of the rondo. The development section is characterised by clashing rhythms of juxtaposed eighth notes and triplets, and reaches a climax on C-flat major, from which the bass descends to G, returning to the main theme. In the coda, the main theme is fragmented in a manner also similar to the finale of the previous sonata; the octave on G here descends to G-flat and then to F, and the movement closes with a triumphant presto.

Schubert's last sonata is by common conscent, his greatest achievement in the form and one of the finest contributions to the long series of classical sonatas. It has a feeling of tranquility and ease- the ease of a master who has all the technical facility at his fingertips with which to express his ideas and emotions.

I. Molto moderato
II. Andante sostenuto
III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza – Trio
IV. Allegro, ma non troppo – Presto

Listen to Sonata in B flat major, D. 960

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