Much ado is made (and rightfully so) over Beethoven's late string quartets, but those of Schubert are perhaps just as remarkable. While he is well remembered for the innocent style of the "Trout" Quintet and other such works, his late chamber works reveal a style full of mature introspection and emotion. These works include the String Quintet in C, the String Quartet in d ("Death and the Maiden"), the String Quartet in G, and this quartet in a minor.
One speculates on what could have been had Schubert lived out a
full life span. At an age where Beethoven was yet to write his
middle quartets, Schubert was already creating works that rival
Beethoven's late creations, in terms of emotional power and sense
of intimacy. If Schubert had continued on to develop a "late
period", then what works could we be enjoying today? How would the
course of chamber music history have been changed? These are
questions that have fascinated music experts and amateur enthusiats
As in the "Trout" Quintet and the "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, Schubert uses material from previous works in this quartet. In this case, he draws material from his musical setting for the opera Rosamunde, as well as from a setting to a stanza by Schiller. The text of that stanza begins: "Fair world, where are you?" Indeed, the mood of he quartet fits that line very well; it is a work full of sadness and despair.
The quartet begins very much as a song would: there are two bars of accompaniment, followed by the entrance of a haunting theme played by the violin. This is a far cry from the happy, carefree moods that we heard earlier in pieces like the "Trout" Quintet. Even in this "mature" style, though, there are elements are purely Schubert: the immediately grasped melodies, the sudden harmonic shifts, and the beautiful modulations.
While the first three movements continue on in this depressed
tone, the final movement is an Allegro in Hungarian style. The
cheerful mood here rather sharply contrasts the somber tone that
had been so firmly set before.
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