Wanderer Fantasy

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The Fantasie in C major, Op. 15 (D. 760), popularly known as the Wanderer Fantasy, is a four-movement fantasy for solo piano composed by Franz Schubert in November 1822. It is considered Schubert's most technically demanding composition for the piano. Schubert himself said "the devil may play it", in reference to his own inability to do so properly.[1]

Historical Background

Schubert composed this work in 1822, the same year he worked on the Unfinished Symphony. It was written for, and dedicated to, Emanuel Karl, Edler von Liebenberg, who had studied piano with Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Schubert wrote it in the hope of earning some money from the dedication.[2]


The whole work is based on one single basic motive, from which all themes are developed. This motive is distilled from the theme of the second movement, which is set in C-sharp minor and is a sequence of variations on a melody taken from the lied Der Wanderer, which Schubert wrote in 1816. It is this set of variations from which the work's popular name is derived.

The four movements are played without a break. After the first movement Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo in C major and the second movement Adagio, follow a scherzo presto in A flat major and the finale, which returns to the key of C major. This finale starts out as a fugue but later breaks into a virtuoso piece.

Movement 1 - Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo

Commencing with the motivic material in fanfare, the movement progresses swiftly and dramatically, firing off the motive cell in a kaleidoscope of tones and keys, but never departing from its original quarter-eighth eighth-quarter rhythmic structure. A climax of the development morphs into a sudden flat-key interlude which punctuates the movement. This passage introduces a theme later repeated in Db major in the scherzo. A stormy chordal climax deteriorates into the decelerating segue material which ushers in the second movement. Approximate running time 6:25.

Movement 2 - Adagio

This theme and variations is a broad expansion of the original lied, and represents the most developed expression of the motive. Tumultuous in its tone, tempo, and dynamics, it is generally played with significant affect. The piece opens with the original elemental thematic statement and a modified variation which develops into a climax before the movement commences with the variations proper. The four variations alternate between Db Major and C# minor, and successively increase subdivision to achieve velocity without a change in basic tempo, which would disrupt the unity of the movement; this is a characteristic feature of Beethoven's work in this genre. The final variation escalates into a violent diminished chord passage and unison run, giving way to an outro in which rumbling bass figurations belie an otherwise affirming melody which gives final closure and cadence to the principal theme. Approximate running time 6:35.

Movement 3 - Presto

The frenetic scherzo is in essence a mockery of the first movement (Compare to the scherzo in Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 29 in this regard). The movement follows the same repeating-motive form of the first, and closely imitates melodic contour, rhythm, and dynamics, albeit in triple meter. It is punctuated by several diminished chord extemporizations, and concludes with an exceedingly dramatic coda powering through to the audacious fortissimo chords that summon the finale. Approximate running time 4:50.

Movement 4 - Allegro

The finale begins with fugal elements but is largely a straightforward virtuoso piece. The drama and tension of the preceding music is released in this furious, dramatic run which finally exhausts the motive, if not the performer as well. Several figurations in this movement are direct Beethoven quotes, especially from Sonata No. 32. C Major is maintained throughout the movement with the exception of modulatory passages which invariably return to the original tonic. The closing passages make extensive use of the german augmented sixth chord (sometimes referred to as the swiss augmented sixth chord when used in the major mode). The augmented sixth chord is used throughout the whole work as a principal source of harmonic tension.

Franz Liszt, who was fascinated by the Wanderer Fantasy, transcribed it for piano and orchestra (S.366) and two pianos (S.653). He additionally edited the original score and added some various interpretations in ossia, and made a complete rearrangement of the final movement (S.565a).


  1. ^ Duncan, Edmondstoune (1905). Schubert. J. M. Dent & Co. p. 165.
  2. ^ Einstein, Alfred (1951). Schubert: A Musical Portrait. Oxford University Press. p. 204.

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