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Saint Paul SundayFeatured Artist

Garrick Ohlsson, piano


Franz Schubert

August 27, 2000 Program
George Frederick Handel: Suite in F major
Ludwig van Beethoven: Rondo, Allegretto from Sonata in G major, Op. 31, No. 1
Franz Schubert: Rondo, Allegretto from Sonata in A major, D. 959
Frederic Chopin: Scherzo No. 3 in c# minor, Op. 39

Garrick Ohlsson Web site - Discography

Franz Schubert: Sonata in A major, D. 959
Schubert's Sonata in A major (D. 959) is one of three piano sonatas he composed in an almost superhuman frenzy of work in the last weeks before his death in November, 1828. Weakened by disease - probably syphilis - Schubert had also become increasingly depressed by his professional failures. Although fêted in the salons of the middle class for his Lieder (settings of poems to music), his attempts at opera had been ill-received and there had been relatively few public performances of his music. This had less to do with his talents than with fashion. By the end of Schubert's life public taste for the more serious forms of music had waned. The new patrons of music - the rising middle classes - had begun to demand easier music which could be performed on the ubiquitous piano which graced nearly every drawing room, and music publishers obliged them with collections of light-hearted fantasias, adaptation of popular opera tunes, and other pieces. Apart from the Lieder, Schubert's searching, enigmatic music was thus little understood outside of his own immediate circle of enthusiasts and lay unappreciated for years following his death.

Schubert's late piano sonatas suffered the same fate, being regarded until the mid-20th century as being too long and too introspective and lacking in an over-arching unity which characterized Beethoven's own works in the genre. Schubert had, like Beethoven before him, struggled with the problem of accommodating the Romantic urge towards emotions and spontaneity within the rational, formalized Classical forms. But both composers chose different solutions to this problem. Beethoven's music follows a kind of inherent logic, whereas Schubert's solution is more disturbing. As pianist Alfred Brendel put so marvelously, "Even in his most chaotic moments Beethoven chose (or could not help) to represent order, whereas the music Schubert composed ... [often] comes amazingly close to chaos itself."

Nineteenth century critics dismissed Schubert's sonatas as unsuccessful attempts to imitate Beethoven, but Schubert's last three sonatas of 1828 - the C minor, A major, and B-flat (D. 958-960) - have since come to be regarded as masterpieces of the early Romantic period, bringing form and feeling into a new relationship. Although Schubert used the traditional four-movement sonata form, he nonetheless gives free rein to the expression of his own unique transcendent poetic vision, one that has since become appreciated on its own terms. As admirer and fellow composer Robert Schumann put it so eloquently, "He has sounds for the most delicate feelings, thoughts, yes, even for the events and conditions of life. As thousand fold as are the forms of man's imagination and questing, so infinite is the variety of Schubert's music."


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