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Welcome to our Blog, The Chamber Music News!  Our bi-monthly blog presents interesting articles about the music we publish, in more detail than you will find on the individual page. We hope that you will enjoy it, let us know. And, if you would like to see an article about a particular subject (related to what we publish) send us an email at editionsilvertrust@gmail.com

 

March / April 2018

Archive

Schubert's Early Quartets

It's generally acknowledged that Franz Schubert wrote 15 formal string quartets, this is if you consider the one movement Quartettsatz in c minor D.703 as counting for one quartet. Otto Deutsch, Schubert’s cataloger, put the number at “about 20” but three are lost and two appear to be nearly identical to D.87 (No.10) Of these extant 15 quartets, few chamber music lovers have either heard in concert or themselves played more than four. These four famous works are the above-mentioned Quartettsatz (which generally goes by the designation of Quartet No.12), Quartet No.13 in a minor D.804, Quartet No.14 in d minor D.810 (Death & the Maiden) and Quartet No.15 in G Major D.887 (sometimes called the Titanic because of its great length). Of course, there are a few hardy souls who have wished to explore more of the Master’s quartets. They have purchased the so-called “complete” edition from C.F. Peters. But this edition is not complete. It only contains his last nine string quartets, Nos.7-15. That this is so is almost certainly due to the fact that Peters was unable to obtain the rights to Schubert’s first six quartets. How this came about is as follows: In 1870, Peters obtained the original rights to Quartet Nos.7-8 and published them in 1871. But Nos.9-15 were originally published by the firms of Jos. Czerny, B. Senff, C.A. Spina and A. Diabelli, each of which for various reasons eventually sold its rights to Peters, who was then able to bring out its “complete” edition toward the end of the 19th century. As for the first six quartets, they remained on publishers shelves slowly disintegrating and were only published for the first time, and in book form, as part of the Gesamtausgabe or Collected Edition in 1890. Shortly thereafter, Breitkopf and Härtel and Doblinger obtained the rights to these works and made the parts available. 

 

Background to the Early Quartets--And Why You Have Not Heard or Played Them

In 1808, Schubert’s father, himself a keen amateur chamber music player, enrolled the eleven year old boy, who already knew how to play the violin, piano, and organ, in the K.u.K. (Royal & Imperial) Stadtkonvikt where he could receive a musical as well as general-education at the state’s expense. Actually, Schubert won a competition for one of two open spots which made his enrollment possible. That the education on offer was good was beyond question, but the Habsburgs were not wasting much money on the living conditions within the school. Schubert referred to the bleak and uninviting institution where he spent five years as “the prison.” He was often forced to send begging letters to his older brother Ferdinand asking for a few kreutzers to buy the occasional roll or apple to bridge the long gap between his mediocre lunch and his paltry supper. But the musical training Schubert received at the Konvikt was thorough and gave him the necessary tools to begin a compositional career. Even more important, as far as chamber music went, the many hours he spent in the family string quartet and piano trio left him in no doubt as to what each instrument could do and gave him a far better grasp than many if not most of his contemporaries as to what sounded well and worked and what did not. During holidays and summer vacation, Schubert usually returned home and had the opportunity to immediately hear and play his newly created quartets. His older brothers Ignaz and Ferdinand took the violin parts, he manned the viola and his father played the cello, it is often said poorly. Critics, who clearly have not taken the trouble to examine the early quartets, erroneously noted that the “particularly weak” and or “unimaginative” cello parts found in these early works must have been due his father’s lack of ability on the cello. If this is so, it took Schubert a rather long time to discover his father’s meager talent because there is nothing particularly “weak” or “unimaginative” about the cello parts to his first five quartets as well as some of the others which followed. While these parts do not rise to the level of excellence or difficulty found in the last four masterpieces, where the cello often leads as much as the first violin, still, the cello parts to most of the early quartets are on a par with those of late Haydn or of Mozart’s Haydn Quartets and even some of the Beethoven’s early quartets. As J.A. Westrup noted in his study on Schubert, “In contrast to certain of his more Olympian colleagues, Schubert doubtless conceived his quartets not so much as a personal testament but rather as things to be played. Any approach to the evolving Schubertian style must proceed from this assumption.”

 

Schubert's early quartets have been summarily dismissed, in most instances without any kind of proper examination. Few would argue that Beethoven’s Op.18 Quartets reach the level of his Late Quartets or that Haydn’s Op.33 (let alone his Op.17 which we still often hear in concert) match those of his Opp.76 or 77, but the early efforts of these composers have neither been dismissed nor consigned to oblivion. What happened in Schubert’s case? First, it must be noted that Schubert was unable, with the exception of No.13, to get any of his quartets published in his lifetime. He had incredible difficulty even getting them performed in public. There is only one known instance where a quartet was performed at a public concert in Vienna while Schubert was still alive, and this not that long before he died. It’s worth remembering that the greatest string quartet player of the day, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, told Schubert, after playing through Death & the Maiden, “Brother, this is nothing! Forget it and leave well enough alone. Stick to your Lieder.” (So much for Schuppanzigh’s much-touted taste, although it must be admitted that he did not trash No.13, which Schubert dedicated to him. And it was in no small part due to Schuppanzigh’s efforts that Beethoven’s early quartets became known in Vienna)

 

Hence we have a situation where all but one of the composer’s string quartets languished, unpublished until after his death. And, keep in mind that there is a huge and startling difference between Schubert’s last quartets and his early ones, just as in the case of Beethoven. However, where a composer’s works are all discovered at once, and this after his death, it is far more frequent that the early works are dismissed and ignored. Had Schubert’s early works received publication and performance during his lifetime, this almost certainly would not have happened.

 

Lastly we come to the critics most if not all of whom have done their part to make sure that Schubert’s early quartets would be consigned to oblivion by dismissing them as juvenile experiments full of aimless harmonic wandering. But as Homer Ulrich, one of the most respected critics of modern times, has written, Schubert was not attempting to imitate “Classical Form” and his so-called errors of form amount to nothing in view of the fact that his efforts were aimed at discovering a new tonal texture and lyricism. The variety and even the extravagance of his modulations “served to develop in Schubert a surety of touch and the harmonic imagination that are such large factors in his later style.” In short, Schubert’s early quartets show the path that had to be traveled from Classicism to Romanticism. But no matter how respected a critic may argue for a work, in the end, it is the music itself which must convince. And Schubert’s early string quartets do convince those listeners and players who take the trouble to get acquainted with them. Some of his most lovely melodies are to be found in these works and one can clearly hear that the foundation upon which he built his masterpieces lies in this early body of work.

 

You can hear soundbites from each quartet on our website and if you desire purchase the parts from Edition Silvertrust by clicking on the links on the following links:

String Quartet No.1, D18

String Quartet No.2, D.32

String Quartet No.3, D.36

String Quartet No.4, D.46

String Quartet No.5, D.68

String Quartet No.6, D.74

 

 

String Qts Dedicated to Haydn-Part 1---March 2012

String Qts Dedicated to Haydn-Part 2---April 2012

3 New Beethoven Quartets?---May 2012

Hermann Berens String Trios---June 2012

2nd Movt Bruckner Str Qnt too hard---July 2012

Arriaga The Spanish Mozart---August 2012

Johan Wikmanson's String Quartets---Sept 2012

Dubois' Piano Trios---October 2012

Trios for Clarinet, Cello & Piano---Nov / Dec 2012

Bargiel Piano Trios---January / February 2013

John Antes String Trios---March / April 2013

Jan Levoslav Bella Chamber Music---May / June 2013

Cecile Chaminade Piano Trio---July / August 2013

Emil Sjogren Violin & Piano Works---Sept / Oct 2013

Anton Arensky's String Quartets---Nov / Dec 2013

Wolf-Ferrari's Piano Trios---January / February 2014

Wilhelm Kienzl's String Quartets---March / April 2014

Friedrich Kiel's Piano Quintets---May / June 2014

Giuseppe Martucci's Piano Trios---July / August 2014

Ignacy Dobrzynski's String Quintets---Sept / Oct 2014

Juliuz Zarbeski Piano Quintet---Nov / Dec 2014

Ferd David Bunte Reihe for Vln & Pno---Jan / Feb 2015

Robert Fuchs-The Serenades---Mar / April 2015

Friedrich Gernsheim's String Qts---May / June 2015

Robert Kahn's Piano Trios---July / August 2015

J.M. Weber's Aus Meinem Leben---Sept / Oct 2015

Heinrich v Herzogenberg's Str Trios----Nov / Dec 2015

Eugen d'Albert's String Quartets---Jan / Feb 2016

Survey of Piano Sextets---March / April 2016

Alexander Boëly String Trios---May / June 2016

Robert Volkman's Piano Trios---July / August 2016

Eduard Franck's String Sextets---Sept / Oct 2016

Hugo Wolf Works for String Quartet--Nov / Dec 2016

Alexander Fesca's Piano Septets--Jan / Feb 2017

Richard Franck's Piano Qts--March / Apr 2017

Alex Taneyev String Qts--May / June 2017

Huberl Parry Piano Trios--July / August 2017

Willaim Shield String Trios--Sept / October 2017

Carl Nielsen String Quartets--Nov / Dec 2017

Joseph Marx Piano Quartets--Jan / Feb 2018