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Franz Schubert - Wanderer Fantasie, D. 760

Music > Piano Music

Next in the canon, and a sonata in all but name, is the colossal ‘Wanderer’ Fantasie, D. 760. It was written in November 1822 and published the following year. It was dedicated to Emmanuel, Edler von Liebenberg de Zsettin, a well-to-do pupil of Mozart's pupil Hummel. This dedication, coupled with the work's designation as a "Fantasie" (then a popular form) may explain its unusually early publication the following year.

By the early 1820s Schubert had enjoyed some significant successes as a composer. Works had been published and performed, with generally favourable reviews. The self-confidence which this success engendered in the young composer is nowhere more apparent than in this fantasia, in the heroic key of C major.

The popular name of the Fantasia, The Wanderer, is taken from the 1816 song of that name, a setting of words by Schmidt von Lubeck, the theme of which is varied in the slow movement of the Fantasia, a massive four-movement structure without breaks. The first movement of the Fantasia starts with a dactylic rhythmic figure, found so often in the music of Schubert. A subsidiary thematic element derived from this appears in the unexpected key of E major, with a further derivative in B flat, before still remoter keys are explored.

The second section, Adagio, begins with a quotation from Schubert's song Der Wanderer, but echoes of the song's sad sentiments are soon dispelled by the decorative embellishments of the theme, which lead to furious eruptions and tremolando figures. The theme is finally restated in the light hand, while left-hand figurations adumbrate the main theme of the following Scherzo. This section, marked Presto, is in Schubert's most exuberant dance style. There is a trio section, and in the final section, Allegro, left hand octaves state the theme again, answered in fugal style by the right hand, before the entries of a third and fourth voice, leading on to a dynamic climax and a brilliant and emphatic C major conclusion.

The originality of the "Wanderer" Fantasy rests in its development of a few thematic cells or motifs to give unity to a large-scale work. It is to all intents a one movement sonata. No work better demonstrates Schubert’s frequent conception of the piano as a kind of surrogate orchestra. Its technical demands challenge even the greatest virtuosos and were far beyond Schubert’s own capacities. Small wonder, then, that Liszt, whose famous ‘transformation of themes’ received vital nourishment from this very work, recast it as a four-movement concerto for piano and orchestra (for many years the only form in which it was generally heard).

I. Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo

II. Adagio

III. Presto

IV. Allegro

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