Quatuor no 12 en do mineur «Quartett-Satz», D 703, D 703 (1820)

Franz Peter Schubert

string quartet


Program Notes

The nineteenth-century English critic Walter Horatio Pater once defined Romanticism as “the addition of strangeness to beauty.” If one understands beauty as the expression of noble sentiments within the framework of classical proportions, and strangeness as relating to something either chimerical, foreign, fabulous or ideal, then the latter applied to the former is indeed a hallmark of composers who like Schubert led the way from Classicism to Romanticism. A direct inheritor of Classical beauty, he managed in his own peculiar way to impart a certain strangeness upon it. This is the very aspect that seemed paramount in the noted musicographer Alfred Einstein’s assessment of the Quartettsatz in C minor, D. 703, which he deemed “not emotional but weird.” This “String Quartet Movement,” composed in 1820 (at once an early and a mature work, written as it was by a 23-year-old composer who had barely eight years left to live) is as clearly and classically conceived as it abounds with novel ideas. Its “weird atmosphere,” writes Einstein, “is increased by the almost continuous tremolo in the ’accompaniment’ or in the theme itself” which permeates to some extent the entire movement. Moreover, as almost always in Schubert’s music, the succession of keys is not quite what one would expect: from the initial, disquieting C minor, the music shifts through unexpected A-flat major and minor-gratifying us on the way with a lofty lyrical theme suddenly interrupted by more vehement spasms-before settling into an elegiac G major to end the exposition. Finally, as a fine way to buttress the movement, Schubert ends it with the opening theme, which he had previously subtracted from the beginning of the recapitulation. Schubert wrote 41 bars of a second movement, an Andante that was sadly left unfinished, like two years later his B-minor symphony… like also his tragically short life.

Jacques-André Houle [x-06]