Schubert's A minor Quartet was one of three major chamber works composed in spring 1824, the first for over three years. Along with the D minor Quartet Death and the Maiden and the Octet for wind and strings, the A minor quartet marked a return to success and good health. The previous year had been difficult; the failure of Rosamunde, a play to which Schubert had composed incidental music, compounding the misery of serious illness.
In common with the other two pieces, the A minor Quartet makes use of an earlier work: the second movement's melody is based on an entracte from Rosamunde. Schubert wrote at the time of 'a ray of sunlight from past sweet days' and there is much good humour in this work, especially in the finale.
The piece was first performed by its dedicatee, Ignaz Schuppanzingh, and his Quartet on the 14th March 1824. Moritz von Schwind, one of Schubert's friends, described the performance as one of 'great purity and tenderness'.
In his short life, Viennese-born composer Franz Schubert made significant contributions to orchestral, chamber and piano music that were to influence generations of composers. His most telling contribution, however, was probably in the field of German art-song or Lied, of which he composed more than 600 examples.
Born the son of a music-loving schoolteacher on 31 January 1797, Schubert received his first piano lessons from his older brother, Ignaz and his first violin lessons from his father. He began composing his first songs and string quartets soon after. Early training with Salieri and a solid education at the Imperial and Royal City College, where he met lifelong friend Josef von Spaum, followed.
In 1813 Schubert began to train as a teacher and in 1814 he became an assistant to his father. Throughout this time, he continued to compose prolifically, writing 150 songs alone in his eighteenth year. Having failed to win the post of music teacher at the teachers' training college in Laibach, he became dissatisfied with his vocation and in 1816 refused to return to his father's school.
Schubert never married, but it's possible that he was in love with Theresa Grob, a young soprano, and his application for the Laibach post was a precursor to a proposed union. In any case, he failed to win the post and renounced the possibility of marriage soon after.
Although by this time the young Schubert had written over 300 songs, 5 symphonies, 4 masses and 7 string quartets, there had still not been a single public performance of his music in Vienna. In 1818 this started to change, transforming Schubert's fortunes and finances.
By 1821, Schubert had been tutor to the Esterházy children at Zselitz, had found brief employment as a répétiteur at the Hofoper, and had seen many of his works performed and published. In January of 1821, the first documented Schubertiad, a gathering of Schubert's friends at which the composer would play his latest works, took place.
1822 was another highly creative year during which Schubert earned enormous sums from his frequent publications. However, in order to maintain his prolific output of music, the composer lived an intense, bohemian lifestyle: writing solidly from 6 am to 1pm everyday, he would eat unhealthily, drink and smoke prodigiously, and engage in sexual excesses. In early 1823, Schubert contracted syphilis and for the next six years suffered from the symptoms that would eventually lead to his death.
Despite his illness, the pace and quality of his musical productions continued unabated. 1824 saw a return to Zselitz, possibly because he was in love with Caroline Esterházy, and the summer of 1825 saw Schubert accompany Vogl on an extended trip around Austria. Coming in the middle of a prolonged symptom-free period of good health that lasted until July 1826, this was undoubtedly the happiest time of Schubert's life and produced the Great Symphony No. 9 in C major.
The remaining three years of Schubert's life would see a down-turn in the composer's health, fortunes and finances. On 28 January 1828 the last Schubertiad took place and in March, the composer felt confident enough to present a grand concert of his works. Despite netting Schubert a great deal of money, the proceeds seem to have slipped through his fingers.
Now suffering badly from the symptoms of syphilis, Schubert moved in with his brother Ferdinand in September 1828, but the damp air of his house only compounded the illness. Still, Schubert kept up the pace of his composition, completing his great song-cycle, Schwanengesang. On 19 November, Schubert died, probably from the advanced state of his illness.
Although between 1821 and 1828, over 100 opuses had been published, less than a quarter of Schubert's total output was published during his lifetime. Of those works that were, more than two thirds were songs; the famous Unfinished Symphony, for example, was not performed until 1865.
Yet Schubert's influence on the remainder of the 19th century was immense and arguably rivalled or exceeded that of Beethoven. Based on the traditions of the Viennese Classicism of Mozart, Haydn and early Beethoven, he developed his own uniquely expressive style, particularly suited to song, but equally effective in instrumental works.
His works were catalogued by O E Deutsch in 1951 and are therefore prefixed with the letter D.
- MIDI FILE - "Serenade" (3'36'')
- MIDI FILE - Ave Maria (2'04'')
- MIDI FILE - Wander Fantasie for piano (complete) (20'45'')