Piano Sonata in C major, D 840 (Schubert)

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Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata in C major, D. 840, nicknamed "Reliquie" upon its first publication in 1861 in the mistaken belief that it had been Schubert's last work,[1] was written in April 1825, whilst the composer was also working on the A minor sonata, D. 845 in tandem. Schubert abandoned the C major sonata, and only the first two movements were fully completed, with the trio section of the third movement also written in full. The minuet section of the third movement is incomplete and contains unusual harmonic changes, which suggests it was there Schubert had become disillusioned and abandoned the movement and later the sonata. The final fourth movement is also incomplete, ending abruptly after 272 measures.

The fragments of the sonata survived in Schubert's manuscripts, and later the work was collected and published in its incomplete form in 1861.


I. Moderato

C major, 4/4 time, sonata form

Duration approximately 15 to 18 minutes

II. Andante

C minor, 6/8 time, five-part rondo form

Duration approximately 10 minutes

III. Menuetto: Allegretto – Trio

A-flat major, 3/4 time, incomplete ternary form. Fragment (ends at measure 80 after the main theme returns in the B part of the menuetto)

Very unusually, the opening theme is immediately repeated, slightly embellished, in A major, and the reprise also begins in this key. Presumably the minuet would have then returned to A-flat major. The trio is in the parallel minor, notated enharmonically as G-sharp minor.[2]

IV. Rondo: Allegro

C major. Fragment (ends 32 measures after the development starts)

Even in this truncated form, the sonata takes approximately 30 to 35 minutes to perform.


Ernst Krenek outlined the structure of each of the work's four movements in notes that he contributed to a recording by Ray Lev in 1947. Krenek elaborates on how he composed a completion, included in the recording, for the unfinished movements. According to Krenek:[3]

  • The first movement introduces "the energetically pulsating rhythm which runs nearly through the entire piece". Unusually, the second theme is initially in B minor, not the expected dominant of G major, which appears only toward the end of the exposition. The development likewise stresses B minor until a false recapitulation in another unexpected key, B major; the actual recapitulation follows closely in F major, and C major finally makes its return with a forte restatement of the first theme. "The second theme now appears in A minor, and the coda turns to A flat, a key that was touched upon early in the beginning of the movement, so that the key scheme of the whole is rounded out with admirable logic."
  • The second movement is in five-part rondo form, "curiously animated by relentless drive". Its first theme, in C minor, incorporates downward skips in sevenths; running sixteenth notes and dramatic accents characterize its second, in A-flat major. The running sixteenths continue as the first theme returns, succeeded by a repeat of the second theme in C major and a final, quiet statement of the first theme to complete the movement.
  • The fragmentary third movement rapidly modulates from A-flat to A major shortly after its beginning, "a very unusual move", at which point Schubert ceased composition. Krenek speculates that Schubert may have intended to complete the movement "with a recapitulation symmetrically returning from A to A-flat major shortly before the end". In his completion, Krenek "wrote a brief development section, re-introduced the theme in A and returned to A-flat, adding a few measures of transition to A-flat minor, which is enharmonically the key of the trio, an exceptionally charming lyrical item".
  • For the fragmentary fourth movement, Schubert completed the first and second themes of the exposition and introduced a third theme in A minor, derived from the first, to open the development before leaving off work on this movement in rondo-sonata form. Krenek indicates his completion elaborated the idea of the third theme and "followed it up with a swiftly modulating development of the first theme and a normal recapitulation" of slightly shorter length than the exposition. His coda takes the third theme as its basis and refers back to the first theme of the first movement, "an idea to which I felt entitled since Schubert had hinted at it at the end of the finale of the Sonata in A major".


Given its large scope and the extent of material that Schubert left for the incomplete movements, this sonata has inspired various composers and performers to undertake completions. Some of their efforts, particularly those penned by performers, have appeared on records. Among them are the following:


  1. ^ a b c Satz (2003)
  2. ^ Newbould, Brian (1999). Schubert: The Music and the Man. University of California Press. pp. 322–323. ISBN 9780520219571.
  3. ^ a b Lev, Ray (1947). Franz Schubert – Piano Sonata no. 15 in C major (Unfinished); Allegretto in C minor – Ray Lev, Pianist (78 RPM). United States: Concert Hall Society. Release B3.
  4. ^ a b c d e Benson (2008), p. 35
  5. ^ a b c d e Deutsch (1978), p. 530
  6. ^ Edition Peters VN 12148 – 8376
  7. ^ See Willi Kahl: Verzeichnis des Schrifttums über Franz Schubert 1828–1928 (Regensburg, Gustav Bosse Verlag: 1938), p. 123, entry 1482.
  8. ^ a b Berman (2002)
  9. ^ Benson (2008), p. V
  10. ^ a b Benson (2008), p. 24
  11. ^ a b Benson (2008), p. 36
  12. ^ Tall Poppies.
  13. ^ Hedley (2003).
  14. ^ Newbould (2007), pp. 3–6.
  15. ^ Standford (2008).


Further reading[edit]

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Piano sonatas (2 hands) by Franz Schubert
Preceded by 21 Sonatas numbering system
No. 15
Succeeded by
23 Sonatas numbering system
No. 17