Behind the Fantasie in F minor, D940, lurks the shadow not so much of Beethoven’s Sonata Op 27 No 1, as of Mozart’s F minor Fantasia K608—a piece written for a mechanical organ, but which circulated widely, as it still does today, in the form of a piano duet. Like Mozart’s, the final section of Schubert’s Fantasie incorporates a fugue (Mozart’s fugue is actually a contrapuntally intensified reprise of a passage from his first section); but no less significant is the presence in Mozart’s opening Allegro of a hair-raising excursion into the distant key of F sharp minor. Schubert treats the same startling harmonic shift on a vastly expanded scale, setting both middle sections of his Fantasie in F sharp minor. Moreover, just as the two outer sections of his piece are related to each other, so too, in a more subtle fashion, are the slow movement and scherzo, with the harmonic progression traced by the Largo’s grandiose opening bars returning in an accelerated form to underpin the scherzo’s theme.
The Fantasie’s opening melody, with its expressive agogic appoggiaturas, is a not-so-distant cousin of the theme from the slow movement of Schubert’s C major String Quintet, composed in the same year. Both impart more than a trace of Hungarian speech-rhythm, and appropriately enough, when Schubert submitted a list of his available compositions to the publishers Schott & Sons in February 1828, he informed them that the Fantasie was to be dedicated to Karoline Esterházy.
At the time Schubert worked on his F minor Fantasie, Paganini was making his sensational Viennese appearances. In the slow movement of the great violinist’s B minor Concerto Schubert had, as he told his friend Anselm Hüttenbrenner, ‘heard an angel sing’; and he tried to reproduce the effect, complete with a quasi-portamento, in the Fantasie’s slow movement, at the point where the forceful opening theme, in a sharply ‘dotted’ rhythm, gives way to the radiant calm of the major. When the initial theme returns, it does so at first in a distant pianissimo, as though it had been cowed into submission by the warmth of the violin-like melody; but the moment is short-lived, before the austere grandeur of the movement’s beginning is restored.
The scherzo’s trio is a delicate piece in D major, but it had not always been so: Schubert’s sketches show that he planned to alternate the scherzo itself with a march, and to have each section appear twice. His instinct to make the whole design more compact was surely right; and at the end of the da capo a dramatic switch of key and an abrupt silence prepare the return of the Fantasie’s opening melody in dramatic fashion.
The final section offers a substantial reprise of the work’s beginning, after which Schubert clearly needs to intensify his material in order to wind the piece up satisfactorily. His solution is to present the opening section’s march-like second theme in the guise of a double fugue. As the fugal section reaches its climax, the music is dramatically broken off, as though to renew the link between scherzo and finale. Once more, the silence is followed by the work’s opening theme, but this time the melody is presented in a new, chromatically enhanced harmonization that lends it added poignancy; and the chromatic guise is picked up in the work’s final bars—a cry of anguish that rises to a peak before sinking down onto a long-sustained final chord.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2010