Schubert, Quartettsatz

February 24, 2018

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

String Quartet No. 12, “Quartettsatz”, D. 703 (1820)

Franz Schubert Franz Schubert wrote at least 17 works for string quartet, the bulk of which he composed for the practical purpose of playing chamber music at home with his family. These earlier works, designed for his father, brothers and himself, are skillful, winning and, due to the technical limitations of his family members, suitable for amateur players. This all changed with the so-called “Quartettsatz” (a posthumously applied title meaning “quartet movement”) of 1820 written when Schubert was in his early 20s.

His 12th string quartet, the “Quartettsatz” is often regarded as the first of Schubert’s mature works inaugurating a series of four final quartets that are unique masterpieces of the genre. While the last three are all substantial works in the Classical four-movement template, the “Quartettsatz”, as its nickname implies, is but a single movement. Schubert apparently intended to write more but, for reasons unknown, completed the first movement and only part of a second before abandoning the unfinished quartet. It is a “torso”, but much like the unfinished symphony with which it has much in common, the “Quartettsatz” is celebrated for its achievement and today it proudly stands alone, complete unto itself. In strong contrast to the previous quartets, Schubert reveals the full technical and dramatic means of his mature style with his signature contrasts between dark, impetuous agitation and ineffably sublime lyricism. Characteristic of Schubert, the shifts in theme and mood are accompanied by unusual and affecting key changes for music that is a vividly charged amalgam of restlessness and serenity. Lying fallow until long after his death, the manuscript eventually came into the hands of Brahms who edited and published the quartet in 1870.

© Kai Christiansen Used by permission. All rights reserved.