Franz Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D 845 & D 850


  • Artist(s): Pier Paolo Vincenzi
  • Composer(s): Franz Schubert
  • EAN Code: 7.46160914886
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Instrumental
  • Instrumentation: Piano
  • Period: Classical, Romantic
  • Publication year: 2022
SKU: C00654 Category:

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The Sonata form was the main musical heritage bequeathed by the eighteenth century to the following generations. It had not grown up from nowhere, of course: its ancestors are found in the Baroque era, and the “Classical” Sonata developed slowly but steadily out of these forerunners. Yet, as it often happens, the ripeness of the Classical Sonata came about at precisely the right time. A musical form which had been patiently begging its time began to blossom when that time eventually arrived.
Thus, the first flourishing of the Classical Sonata coincided with the great blossoming of the Enlightenment, and its ripeness with the beginnings of Idealism. With Kant, the Classical Sonata musically embodied the idea of two dialoguing principles, led by reason; with Hegel, it displayed the power of dialectics in transcending two opposing ideas into a new, all-encompassing synthesis.
Classical Sonatas proper, such as those by Haydn, Mozart, or Clementi, frequently avoid all emotional excesses (though exceptions are obviously found, and are very significant). There is some kind of composure, and frequently a tinge of humour which enlightens the contrasts and oppositions. The dialogue between the two main themes of the first movement is rarely a struggle or a fight; it is more like the civilised exchanges of ideas among well-behaved people who respect each other while, at times, disagreeing.
Beethoven’s first Sonatas seemingly conformed to this model; with the benefit of hindsight, however, the seeds of its disruption were present from his earliest efforts in this genre. While good-natured humour still prevailed – and corresponded to young Beethoven’s actual outlook on life, prior to the tragedy of deafness – the sudden outbursts, unforeseen accents, and at times violent contrasts were decidedly not in line with the elegant refinement of the aristocratic salons.
As time went by, and Beethoven punctuated his life with his 32 Piano Sonatas, his nine Symphonies and his other works in the Sonata form (including, most notably, the String quartets), the itinerary of his life and poetics revealed the hidden potential of this genre, but also quietly undermined it. Beethoven quickly learnt that a composer could make the most of the dialogue (or rather the battle, by now) of the Sonata’s two themes when they are short, poignant, extremely characterised, and lend themselves to be broken and splintered into still recognisable fragments, to be combined and re-composed in the development. Fatally, this downplayed the sheer melodicism of the themes: the lyrical moments of Beethoven’s Sonatas are frequently confined to the slow movements, whilst the first movement’s principal themes are sculpted rather than sung.
Beethoven’s career was long, and his late Sonatas, Quartets, and Symphonies extend their branches well into the 1820s.
As is well known, Beethoven would die just one year before Schubert, in spite of his being Schubert’s senior by nearly thirty years. But by the time of Beethoven’s last years, the Sonata form had been adopted by younger musicians, who led it to a completely different direction, perhaps also in order to free themselves from the burden of complexity and psychological/spiritual quest found in Beethoven’s output. For many, Sonatas had become just a scheme, a pretext, an “under-text”, over which virtuosity and brilliancy reigned freely. The Sonata was no more a battlefield for two opposing metaphysical principles; it had become just the container for a thunderstorm of passageworks and a display of technique.
Neither option was acceptable for Schubert. Against Beethoven, he could not conceive of a “non-thematic” (i.e., non-melodic) theme. Against the younger generation, he was not attracted by virtuosity for virtuosity’s sake.
Even when Schubert did perform as an itinerant pianist – as would happen precisely at the time when Sonata D 850 would be composed – his concertising was not that of the huge crowds frantically applauding an impressive athlete of the keyboard. He favoured the small venues, the unpretentious places, where like-minded people were well disposed to embrace his poetics of the half-tones and of soul-searching. For this reason, his Sonatas rarely possess the quality of “necessariness” found in Beethoven’s music, where no note is expendable or superfluous; here, even authoritative interpreters and commentators have felt themselves entitled to speak of unneeded lengths and diluted narratives.
The point is that, for Beethoven, what means most is to reach a goal, and the means are… just means (though exquisitely beautiful and efficacious ones). For Schubert, what counts is the journey itself, the possibility of enjoying (or at least of passionately living) every bit of it, and the feeling of ceaseless yearning and desire which, finally, marks the whole of human experience.
The two Sonatas recorded in this Da Vinci Classics album demonstrate precisely this attitude, in spite of the pronounced differences between them. Both share a comparatively rare quality, i.e. that of having been issued in print during the composer’s all too short lifetime.
Indeed, the A-minor Sonata appeared in 1825/6, printed by a new Viennese publisher by the name of Pennauer. It bears a dedication to Archduke Rudolph, the famous patron and supporter of Beethoven, but is has very little in terms of homage to the Archduke’s celebrated teacher and friend. It is quintessentially Schubertian, with its inexpressible and unutterable nostalgia, whispered and obsessively returned to in one of the most unforgettable themes in Schubert’s vast output. The first theme is unobtrusive and unpretentious; it is veined by deepest melancholy and has a rather enigmatic profile. Upon first hearing, it might seem to be little more than an introduction: instead, it becomes the true protagonist of the movement, influencing even the second theme which should provide the utmost contrast to the first.
This beautiful singing line may indeed come from actual singing: the closeness between this theme and that of a Lied has been frequently remarked. The Lied, by the unpromising title of Totengräbers Heimwekh (“The gravedigger longs for home”), D 842, suggests how Death looms large over the human being’s horizon, leaving him lonely, forsaken, “with Death my only kin” and a cross in his hands.
Untypically for Schubert, the second movement is a theme with variations. Indeed, this genre was by no means rare in Schubert’s output (even though here, too, we find nothing in the line of Beethoven’s grandiose variation cycles). It is unusual, however, for a theme with variations to be found in this position within a Sonata. Rather typically for Schubert, by way of contrast, the process of variating is built on the theme’s principal elements, and leads away, and then back home, the variations’ keys from that of the theme. Schubert would employ not only the same principle, but even the same tonal itinerary, in one of his most beloved works for the piano, i.e. the third Impromptu from his posthumous op. 142.
A pronounced contrast between vitality and contemplation is then offered by the Scherzo and Trio: liveliness characterises the Scherzo, whilst enchantment and amazement are the key feelings in the touching Trio.
The concluding Rondo, built in a very original form with more than a touch of the Sonata form, is suffused with a feeling of faerie which is suggestive of the later Mendelssohnian atmospheres. Magic takes the form of both elven-like lightness and disquieting accents, but poetry is what holds them together throughout the movement.
If this Sonata was clearly written during one of the frequent moments of suffering and pain in Schubert’s life, the other recorded here speaks of one of the few periods of happiness and seeming good health.
Schubert composed it while touring Alpine Austria with Johann Vogl, a baritone for whom many of Schubert’s Lieder had been written, and who premiered numerous among them. During that summer of pure enjoyment of the mountain sceneries, of good music-making and of pleasant and fresh air, Schubert found the time for writing a symphony (alas, now lost in the archives of the Viennese Musikfreunde), for sketching the “Great” Symphony, and for composing this magnificent Sonata, exuberant with vitality and joie de vivre. Uncharacteristically for his instrumental works, hints of descriptive music abound, suggesting the various impressions of the tour. Similarly untypical is the pronounced virtuoso dimension of this piece; it has been suggested (but without any conclusive proof) that this feature may be due to the dedication of the piece, which was offered to a professional violinist who was also a brilliant pianoforte player, Carl Maria von Bocklet.
Still, this Sonata is built no less carefully than its elder sister, and reveals a net of inside references in terms of rhythmical cells and structural ideas. The brisk pace of this Sonata seems to infect even the slow movement, which, again rather uniquely for Schubert, is not slow at all, being indicated as “Con moto”.
The pair of Scherzo and Trio is, once more, an odd couple, with an energetic Scherzo and a lyrical Trio; here too we cannot but admire Schubert’s compositional ability in deriving motivic elements from unexpected sources.
The last movement, which Robert Schumann found to be unexplainably jocular, is – at least in our ears – marked by only a slight tinge of humour, without betraying the overall optimistic character of this magnificent Sonata.
Together, these two extraordinary works reveal Schubert’s genius at its highest, and the varied palette of his emotional range: from despair to exhilaration, from humour to tenderness, from vitality to depression. But all of these contrasting feelings are subsumed under a single word, which encompasses them all and which represents the core of Schubert’s poetics: love.
Chiara Bertoglio © 2022


Pier Paolo Vincenzi took piano lessons while still very young in his hometown with Elisa Attioli. By the time he was 20 he had obtained a first class Diploma at the Istituto Pareggiato G. Briccialdi in Terni, under Andrea Trevisan. He then studied with Pier Narciso Masi at the Sesto Fiorentino music school, also attending many of Masi’s master classes, including those held at the Accademia Internazionale “Incontri col Maestro” in Imola, where he obtained a Masters Degree in chamber music. He also attended master classes held by teachers such as Massimiliano Damerini, Alexander Lonquich and Guido Salvetti, and the Wiener Meisterkurse under Martin Hughes. For Brilliant Classics he has recorded the Wagner complete piano music (2 CDs, 2013), the complete “Vaterländischer Künstlerverein” di Anton Diabelli (2 CDs, 2015) and the Cilea complete piano music (2 CDs, 2016). For Meridian Records he has recorded the complete Weber piano sonatas (2 CDs, 2016/2017) and a CD with great masterpieces by Robert Schumann (Papillons op. 2, Carnaval op. 9 and Faschingsschwank aus Wien op. 26). His recordings are well reviewed by critics, radio and magazines, such as the German radio MDR - Figaro, RSI Rete due - Radiotelevisione Svizzera, WDR 5 (Germany), Rai Radio 3, ReteToscanaClassica, "KulturSpiegel", Süddeutsche Zeitung, "Il Venerdì di Repubblica" (... Pier Paolo Vincenzi, pianista di grande valore e preparazione ... - Claudio Strinati), Fanfare magazine (... Vincenzi has the kind of sparkling, italian touch one often associates with Benedetti Michelangeli, or more recently, Luisi, His playing alternates between seriousness and sensuality, drama and joy, and the listener is with him every step of the way ... - Lynn René Bayley), Diapason, American Record Guide (... Italian pianist Vincenzi definitely knows his way on the music ... .The playing is precise, imaginative, and the variations are well contrasted ... - Alan Becker), SantaFeMexican (... Italian pianist Pier Paolo Vincenzi offers an insightful, clearly voiced interpretation of Beethoven's set - James M. Keller), ClassicalMusicGuide (... Vincenzi captures the essence of Wagner's piano music with care, heart and precision ... - Lance G. Hill) Gramophone, Cambridge University Press , Music, Classic Voice, Amadeus, La Repubblica. He teaches piano at the Scuola comunale di Musica in Scandicci, at the Accademia Musicale di Firenze and at the Centro Studi Musica & Arte in Florence, also in a course specializing in Music Therapy. Moreover, he also teaches Music Theory and Harmony in Florence. He also has a degree in Electronic Engineering, which he took at the University of Perugia.


Franz Schubert: (b Vienna, 31 Jan 1797; d Vienna, 19 Nov 1828). Austrian composer. The only canonic Viennese composer native to Vienna, he made seminal contributions in the areas of orchestral music, chamber music, piano music and, most especially, the German lied. The richness and subtlety of his melodic and harmonic language, the originality of his accompaniments, his elevation of marginal genres and the enigmatic nature of his uneventful life have invited a wide range of readings of both man and music that remain among the most hotly debated in musical circles.