Streichquartett Nr. 10 in Es-Dur, D 87, op 125 no 1 (1813)

Franz Schubert

string quartet


  • 1. Allegro moderato
  • 2. Scherzo Prestissimo — Trio
  • 3. Adagio
  • 4. Allegro

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Program Notes

One characteristic of Schubert’s chamber music is its gradual stylistic development, in contrast to Haydn’s or Beethoven’s, whose styles each underwent more sudden changes. From the outset, Schubert’s works in this genre—composed for domestic performances centered around the family quartet (his brothers Ferdinand and Ignaz on violins, himself on viola and his father on cello)—already contain in essence an individuality that will ripen and take shape over the years, up until the last quartets and the Quintet, D. 956. Despite the influences, borrowings and sometimes even the clumsiness of Schubert’s first extant quartets (composed, admittedly, when he was only 15 and 16 years old), one finds in them those inimitable melodies and sensitive harmonic modulations that make these works as Schubertian as the later ones. Incidentally, it is remarkable how rapidly, albeit gradually, Schubert’s art matured—if one can decently speak of ‘maturity’ in a man whose creative path was so abruptly cut short at the age of 31.

The Quartet in E-flat major, composed in 1813 (but published in 1840, only after his death, like so many of his works) is among those domestic quartets, written during his student years while he was a pupil of Anton Salieri. The spirit of Mozart pervades the entire work, although it is Haydn’s Viennese humor that comes to mind in the Scherzo. Though some of the musical ideas may seem a bit scattered (one mustn’t forget we’re dealing with a 16-year-old boy, here!), the element that appears most typically Schubertian in this work is the concentrated manner in which the melodies are contoured and phrased. This quartet, however, appears exempt of a melancholy — nevertheless sometimes present in a few works of the same period — that could have signaled a certain future gravity. Instead, all is light and bliss here.

Jacques-André Houle