Piano Sonata in D major, D 850 (Schubert)

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Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata in D major D. 850, Op. 53, known as the Gasteiner, was written during August 1825 whilst the composer was staying in the spa town of Bad Gastein. A year later, it became only the second of his piano sonatas to be published.

Movements[edit]

Schubert, piano sonata opus 53, first movement
Schubert D850 Mvt I.png

I. Allegro vivace - 4/4

D major. The autograph has alla breve Allegro while the first edition (published during Schubert's lifetime and thus probably a revision) gives common-time Allegro vivace - this is uncharacteristically quick for a Schubert allegro, a marking he often qualified with moderato. The first movement is unrelentingly energetic, ranging from ebullient to stormy to triumphant. A fanfare-like introduction introduces the primary thematic material featured in this movement and ultimately throughout the sonata. In a characteristic Schubertian gesture, this theme is immediately repeated in the minor - also typical is the modulation through remote keys as the exposition is spun out. The cheerful second subject, with its vacillating high-low pattern, is reminiscent of yodeling. This theme is also similar to the opening of the Lied Das Heimweh (homesickness), composed at the same time. The development section features a grandiose chordal fanfare theme based on the first subject, also used in the coda closing the movement. Some of the most challenging writing in Schubert's solo piano oeuvre is found here, with the relentless triplets providing opportunity for virtuosic display.

Schubert D850 Mvt II.png

II. Con moto - 3/4

A major, ABABA form. Like the first movement, the second movement is unusual in its quickness, signified by the unique tempo marking. A driving pulse written into the phrasing augments an otherwise wistful melody in the A section. The bold, expansive B section features a novel syncopated dotted rhythm that produces stops and starts of momentum and is used to dramatic effect. Several recitatives and meditative digressions punctuate the piece, which has a sophisticated texture and inventive writing in general. The syncopated rhythm of theme B is merged with theme A for its final appearance, and the movement dies off with a brief and shadowy outro.

Schubert D850 Mvt III.png

III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace - Trio - 3/4

D major, Trio in G major. In the athletic Scherzo, Schubert expands a jaunty dotted-note idea to its limits, with thick chordal writing and frequent abrupt changes of register, texture, and key. Hemiola is used extensively - a strong 3/2 pulse pervades the 3/4 Scherzo. The stately trio, with its even, lyrical repeated chords and distant modulations, contrasts considerably with the kinetic music surrounding it.

Schubert D850 Mvt IV.png

IV. Rondo: Allegro moderato - 4/4

D major. ABACA form. The playful and innocent march-like rondo theme, repeated twice with increasing rhythmic subdivision and decoration, is punctuated by two contrasting episodes, each with their own stormy central sections. The B episode features quick scales passed between the hands as a simple staccato phrase is developed. The C episode features a lyrical repeated chord theme that digresses into a dramatic minor section. After the last highly ornamented statement of the rondo theme, a valedictory coda brings the work to a quiet and understated close.

The work takes approximately 40 minutes to perform, one of the longest and most ambitious of Schubert’s solo works, especially up to this point.

Themes/Motifs[edit]

Schubert employs a focused and sophisticated treatment of motifs throughout the piece, creating a cohesive identity and aesthetic for the sonata.

Repeated chords:

Repeated chords (and less specifically, successive chords) pervade the work, dominating the texture, appearing at conspicuous points, and holding important structural functions.

Allegro vivace - the first bar of the sonata establishes this pattern with four repeated eighth-note chords. This pattern is a formal motive of the movement and as such is expanded upon extensively throughout the first subject and development.

Con moto - the primary texture of the first section is successive chords; sets of repeated chords are the focus of several cadential sections as well as the final climax of the piece.

Scherzo - again a texture of successive chords dominates, and the basic opening phrase that seeds most of the music ends in a twice-repeated chord emphasized by hemiola. The trio is based heavily on repeated chords throughout.

Rondo - the theme of the second episode is an extended repeated chord melody that receives developmental treatment.

Stepwise harmonic and melodic motion in the diatonic scale:

The simple and fundamental diatonic scale, particularly an ascent often followed by a descent, is used to create a rich variety of melodies and textures.

Allegro vivace - the opening bars outline a diatonic ascent from D to A (12345). The second theme outlines the same pattern, this time descending as well. The unaltered diatonic scale appears prominently in the final lines of the exposition and recapitulation, ascending and descending across the entire keyboard.

Con moto - the first and second themes are both based on phrases outlining the same ascending-descending stepwise movement (1232176).

Scherzo - the primary melodic motif is a four-note diatonic ascent, appearing in several positions on the scale. At the same time, the harmonic motion of phrases consistently follows a descending diatonic pattern. The parts of the trio that are not repeated chords (see first motif above) are almost all adjacent diatonic moves. The final cadential phrases in the right hand are diatonic descents from 4 to 1, an inversion of the main motif.

Rondo - the first episode's theme is based entirely on a four-note diatonic ascent and descent, repeated dozens of times in various positions.

Eighth-note triplets, especially in pairs:

Though not a major formal motive outside of the first movement (which is not to be understated), similar triplet groups appear prominently throughout the sonata.

Allegro vivace - juxtaposed with the straight duple-meter eighth-note repeated chords, triplets pervade the movement, appearing in nearly every bar and creating a strong undercurrent that frequently spirals into outbursts.

Scherzo - in a manner similar to the first movement's exposition, the second phrase of the scherzo’s first subject comprises an eighth-note triplet pattern that contrasts rhythmically with the preceding material. This pattern returns triumphantly in the bass to end the second section.

Rondo - triplet pairs are a primary feature of the main theme, and appear conspicuously as one-bar flourishes in the first episode, which is otherwise in strict duple meter with uniform sixteenth notes.

Alpine aesthetic:

Figuration idiomatic of horns

Schubert's correspondence shows he was struck and inspired by the mountainous beauty of Bad Gastein, and this master of inventive pianistic imitation and scene-building (e.g. the babbling brooks and spinning wheels of the Lieder) achieves a convincing romanticized alpine aesthetic. This is achieved in several ways; foremost is by creating a sense of scale. Expansive passages with widely spaced, fully voiced chords and syncopated rhythms, often accompanied by unprepared modulations and sudden changes of texture, convey a sense of awe and grandeur. These passages appear prominently in the first two movements in particular, where they appear as conspicuous digressions and intense climaxes; the second subject of the Con moto primarily employs this and other atmosphere-building effects. The pastoral alpine atmosphere is strengthened by frequent writing idiomatic of the natural horn. Schubert uses this device frequently in Lieder - it features in Der Lindenbaum and is a repeated device in Die schöne Müllerin, signifying the hunter. Ian Bostridge states in Schubert's Winter Journey: "The horn call - last heard in Der Lindenbaum - is such a feature of the Romantic imagination that it is not surprising to come across it". The figure appears repeatedly in the first three movements; in the B section of the Con moto, there is an extended pianissimo passage composed entirely of this figuration, clearly conveying horns heard in the distance. Finally, the second subject of the Allegro being highly reminiscent of yodeling was probably a deliberate gesture explicitly signifying the Alps.

External links[edit]

Piano sonatas (2 hands) by Franz Schubert
Preceded by
Sonata in A major (D. 664)
AGA, Series 10 (15 sonatas)
No. 11
Succeeded by
Sonata in G major (D. 894)
Preceded by
Sonata in A minor (D. 845)
21 Sonatas numbering system
No. 17
23 Sonatas numbering system
No. 19