Franz Schubert: Last Pages (Late Piano Works)


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    In an early-nineteenth-century Vienna, where chamber music was highly in favour among all social layers, Franz Schubert dedicated himself from his earliest years to the composition of works for small ensembles, which could be performed in family or during soirees with friends. We do not know all details about his earliest works (written between 1812 and 1815); perhaps, in some cases, these could be exercises he realized during his youthful apprenticeship under Antonio Salieri.
    Schubert’s fame is strictly bound to his Lieder, piano music, and, in general, his chamber music. This makes him a matchless example of this genre; on the other hand, this restricts the field within which his true compositional vein was framed throughout the nineteenth century. In reality, the Austrian composer’s musical writing goes well beyond the yielding, intimist lyricism of sweet accompanied songs, for which Schubert has been often defined as Beethoven’s “female doppelgänger”. Still, watching closely, even in works received by critics as not personal enough, or whose character is seen as almost that of an exercise or a “minor essay”, we can point out a lyrical power and the high number of means he employed for getting to sounds worth of the best symphonic world.

    Valses Nobles D 969 op. 77.
    Genesis. The twelve Valses Nobles, as they are defined by the title added by music publisher Tobias Haslinger, share with the 16 Wiener-Damen Ländler D 734 (“Vienna Dames’ Ländler”) the fame of being the most beloved and performed dances by the Austrian Composer. They are short dance pieces written probably around 1822 and published in 1826 as op. 67 with a dedication (“Hommage aux belles Viennoises”). In that year the Valses Nobles were composed; on February 1st, in the Vienna home of a friend of Schubert’s, Joseph Barth, violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh’s ensemble performed String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D 810, Death and the Maiden.
    The Valses Nobles are less frequently performed than they would deserve for their beauty and fascination. Behind their seeming simplicity, they hide true jewels, carefully set in small valuable miniatures. Here Schubert’s great skill in employing rather simple means is shown, while he manages to ennoble the folklike character of his tunes.
    Structure. The first Waltz, in C major, opens the set and immediately shows the power and the wish for velocity and expressivity characterizing op. 77 as a whole.
    There is an overwhelming euphoria, inviting to dance and fun. Schubert wrote, and at times improvised, his piano dances for the guests’ pleasure. He challenged them to keep pace with the quickest, such as C-major Waltz no. 3 (perhaps the best known, with an exceptional rhythmic strength even though it is grounded on a single motivic idea).
    After the exposition of the first dance in C major, the second enters with its A major. It is a difficult balance, suddenly questioned by the third dance. All others follow. No. 7 is almost as incisive as no. 9, surly with its full octaves. A certain calm reappears only with no. 10, delightful and lyrical, almost up to the moment when, playing with surprise, it culminates with an audacious fortissimo in its finale. Certainly, the harmonic contrast willed by Schubert in these Waltzes is more vibrant and daring than in other dance sets, as is clear from the beginning. The Maestro put great care and skill in creating them; every encounter/clash between keys is finely announced and wisely treated. This happens in Waltzes no. 6 and 7, when, once more, C major is almost de-composed, fragmented – sounding not serious at all – at least up to the moment when order is re-established by a fleeting E major in a movement of brilliant beauty.

    Allegretto in C minor D 915
    Genesis. Schubert wrote the C-minor Allegretto D 915 on April 26th, 1827, seemingly for his friend Ferdinand Walcher’s departure. He was an official of the Austrian government who had been transferred to Venice, the base of the Austrian Empire’s fleet. However, some critics suggest a double dedication for this piece, sharing key and title with D 900, slightly earlier. Beethoven had died just a month before (March 26th); surely, even though Schubert had met him only once, he remembered the Maestro’s praises bestowed on his Lieder. Schubert had also been a light-bearer at Beethoven’s funeral, and his influence on this work is doubtless. Still, it is just a “moral” influence, since the writing style is fully late-Schubertian; the piece would be published by Gotthard in Vienna only in 1870, more than 40 years after Schubert’s death.
    Structure. The work opens with broad C-minor arpeggios, as if melody would involve the listener in a simple but deep musical inspiration, made of disquieting and sighing chords, performed by Tariello as a self-restrained sequence. The turn to C major seemingly narrates a moment of optimism regarding the friend’s speedy return. Arpeggios progressively vanish as the central section (in A flat) nears, forming small chords which at times create short new melodies. Getting back to C minor, the piece seems to close, but this is just the announcement for the true finale, arriving with its energetic and confident C major.
    Drei Klavierstûcke D 946
    Genesis. In 1827, Schubert wrote the two sets of Impromptus, D 899 and 935, each made of four pieces. Both sets became iconic in the keyboard repertoire and are acknowledged among their composer’s great piano works. A different fate happened, at Schubert’s time and even today, to the three works later known as Drei Klavierstücke, issued by Rieter Bidermann (Winterthur 1868).
    Possibly Schubert conceived them as a new group of Impromptus, but, once he finished them, he did not provide them with a title, merely indicating each one’s tempo and key. Thus, they are known as Allegro assai (E-flat minor), Allegretto (E-flat major) and Allegro (C major). In spite of being valuable and masterly keyboard works, they have been overlooked almost throughout the 20th and 21st century, and criticized by many musicologists for their simplicity. Schubert was addressing the world of amateurs and avoided extreme technical difficulties. Still, upon closer observation, his aiming at simplicity and ease is contradicted by the pieces’ length and by the commitment one needs for performing some of their parts.
    Structure. The first two are in the most complex Rondo form (ABACA), whilst in the last Schubert employs the simpler ternary form ABA; it could be conceived as a Scherzo with two trios. Its music is rhythmical and lively in its principal theme; it is adorned with Romanticism in its long slow section, performed sweetly and engagingly here.
    When the opening material returns, another theme appears, slow in turn and contrasting with the first, but present and weighty. The piece closes by recapitulating the principal themes.
    The Allegretto leads in a serene mood with its lovely but slightly melancholic theme. The following sections are contrastingly lively, with plenty of colour and playfulness. The scheme employed here by Schubert is the opposite of that of the first piece, with essentially slow outer sections and quick or lively inner ones. The second subject is still vivacious and light. Sweet and present at the same time, the precise performance recorded here subtracts nothing to beauty, and appears to be moving together with the notes.

    Sonata D 959 No. 20 in A major
    Genesis. Composed and first performed in Vienna on Sept. 27th, 1828, with a dedication to composer and conductor Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Sonata D 959 No. 20 in A major is Schubert’s penultimate piano Sonata, written approximately three months before his death. It is one of his most popular Sonatas, frequently performed and heard; still, the composer could not have it published in the time left to him. It would be issued by Diabelli in Vienna only in 1839.
    Furthermore, it is one of the three written after Beethoven’s death on March 26th, 1827. That event certainly grieved Schubert deeply, but also “freed” him from the constant comparison with the great composer; nevertheless, Schubert paid homage to him in each of these three last works, rich in stylistic references to Beethoven. To cite but one, the closing Rondeau of D 959 is structured after the one found as the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 16 in G major – another Rondeau. This should not corroborate the common, but misleading idea that Schubert’s style is modelled after Beethoven’s more than it is justified by their contemporaneity with each other. Numbered among the greatest piano works ever, these Sonatas become examples of the great Classical masterpieces, closing the circle of time and opening the doors for the free interpretation of the “Piano Sonata” genre through the works by Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, and Brahms. They certainly share with Beethoven’s works their extended size and the rhythmic power of some themes, but certainly their lyricism, digressions, and dancing paces are Schubert’s own.
    Structure. The Sonata opens with an A-major Allegro, with a bold and noble theme. Two diverse elements are then presented in a row, contradicting an established habit of the time, i.e. thematicism. Dramatic and majestic chords gradually make room for a sweeter melody, masterfully built on the same thematic material. The exposition fades rather than closes, denying the Sonata Form’s very structure. The development, between play and excitement, focuses on fanciful references to the second theme, lyrical and passionate. Finally, a majestic coda closes the movement.
    Even though the second movement, Andantino, is not long, it certainly is the most fascinating, with its numerous contrasting ideas which are highlighted by a tight repeated pattern, and by the atmosphere created by the affable but mysterious principal theme. It leaves one with an indefinite feeling, charged in tension just as the quiet preceding a storm. The second theme does not relax this disquietude, but rather brings great nervousness, culminating in an almost dramatic climax.
    A very brilliant Scherzo. Allegro vivace follows, with a Trio entirely played on hand-crossings. Delightful in its lightness and good humour, this movement requires great skill in the initial arpeggiated chords, appearing as a more difficult variant of those of the Andantino; in this CD, it is played lovely and dancingly by young pianist Marco Tariello.
    The finale, Rondò. Allegretto, pays homage – as previously stated – to Beethoven in the choice of the tempo. However, the only actually derivative element is Schubert’s self-borrowing of a theme after the slow movement of his own Piano Sonata in A minor D 537. This movement, typical for the late Schubert in its propensity to lyricism and intimism, finally refers back to the whole Sonata, through its thematic and expressive recalls of the first two movements and for its extremely expanded size, similar to the initial Allegro.
    Anna Cepollaro © 2023


    Marco Tariello, born in 1998, lives in Borgo Virgilio, just outside Mantua. He began studying piano in 2003 at the age of five and in 2007 he began studying at the “Accademia Pianistica di Mantova” with M. Leonardo Zunica. While continuing his artistic path at the Academy in Mantua, in 2009 he entered the Conservatory of Music “E.F. Dall'Abaco” of Verona and in 2016 he graduated with highest marks and special mention in the class of M. Adriano Ambrosini. He participated for seven consecutive years in the masterclasses and summer lessons held during the Italian-Finnish cultural and musical exchange "Suomitaly - International Music Meeting", perfecting his craft with Maria Ala-Hannula, Alberto Nosè, Yunus Kaya and Katri Säkö-Arias. He also attended several masterclasses under Boris Petrushansky, Lovro Pogorelich, Benedetto Lupo, Andrea Rucli, Konstantin Bogino, Irina Chukowskaya and Filippo Gamba. Furthermore, he attended a postgraduate course at the “Hochschule der Künste Bern” in Bern (Switzerland) under the guidance of M. Thomasz Herbut.
    From a very young age, he won national and international piano competitions. In 2014 and 2015 he won the 1st absolute prize at the International Competition "Giuseppe Acerbi" (Mantua), in 2017 the 1st absolute prize at the International Competition "Premio Antonio Salieri" in Legnago (Verona) and in 2018 he won the 1st absolute prize at the International Piano Competition "Città di San Donà di Piave" (Venice) in a jury chaired by Anna Kravtchenko. In 2014 and 2015 he performed recitals in the Eterotopie Piano&Sound Festival with two recitals dedicated to Schubert, Chopin, Liszt. In 2016 he won first prize in his category at "Virtuoso Piano Competition" in London, debuting at the Elgar Room of the Royal Albert Hall together with pianists and musicians from all over the world. The same year he performed Franz Liszt's Concerto No. 1 at the Teatro Ristori in Verona accompanied by the Verona Conservatory Orchestra under the direction of M. Pier Carlo Orizio. In 2017 he was a finalist at the “A. Rubinstein” International Piano Competition in Düsseldorf (Germany). He performed for the “Rassegna Giovani Musicisti” within the musical season “Amici della Musica di Verona” at the Sala Maffeiana (Verona). In 2017 he debuted with a recital at the Teatro Bibiena in Mantua in the “Mantova Musica” season with pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, and Prokofiev, and in 2018 at the Monferrato Classic Festival. In 2018 and 2021 he held recitals at the “Teatro Sociale” in Villastrada (Mantova).
    His repertoire includes important pages by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov.


    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.