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Piano Sonata in B flat major, D960

'Schubert: Piano Sonata D960' (CDA66004)
Schubert: Piano Sonata D960
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'Schubert: Piano Sonatas' (CDA67027)
Schubert: Piano Sonatas
Buy by post £10.50 CDA67027 
Movement 1: Molto moderato
Movement 2: Andante sostenuto
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza – Trio – Scherzo
Movement 4: Allegro ma non troppo – Presto

Piano Sonata in B flat major, D960
The opening movement of the Sonata in B flat major goes beyond analysis. It is one of those occasions when the pen has to be set down on the desk, the body rested against the back of a chair, and a listener’s whole being surrendered to another sphere. Here there is neither the superficial gloss of refinement nor the mawkish self-consciousness of profundity; rather Schubert’s miraculous ability to bare his soul without a trace of narcissism—a combined result of his humility, universality, and an exquisite unawareness of either.

Art is waiting; inspiration is waiting. Humility is a certain relation of the soul to time. It is an acceptance of waiting. (Simone Weil)

This movement’s nine first-time bars (117–125) have been the subject of a certain controversy for two reasons: first because of their strange, dislocated character; and secondly because they force the pianist to repeat the movement’s exposition. Hence they have often been omitted. I feel that they are important, not only because the same genius who wrote the rest of the work also wrote these bars, but also because their radical nature should alert us to a hidden message beyond the obvious. This weird, stuttering, hesitating passage has an important psychological significance in the structure of the movement: it emphasizes the fact that even in the most lyrical moments there lies disquiet; it contains the only example of the shuddering bass trill played ff—a terrifying glance of ‘recognition’; it is a premonition of drama to come in the development section; and it enables both the return of the opening bars and the C sharp minor second-time bar to have a greater, magical effect. The other objection—that repeats for Schubert were a convention he was unable to shake off, and that to hear the exposition once is enough—doesn’t convince me. These nine bars are as far from convention as is possible, and a repeat is never a duplicate. It is ultimately a matter of patience, with the music, with oneself—of allowing something time to unfold and to grow.

Affliction is by its nature inarticulate. The afflicted silently beseech to be given the words to express themselves. (Simone Weil)

With the second movement a new dimension of isolation and alienation seems to be introduced which is underlined by a contrast and separation of texture. The right hand’s sorrowing song of lament seems in another world from the left hand’s detached, almost oblivious accompaniment—a shadow of dance making the poignant melody even more heart-rending. The contrast here is not opposition, but incomprehension. Again the paradox of Schubert’s tonality: the central section, in sunny A major, should be consoling, but there is no music more anxious or troubled, a desperate attempt to remain cheerful amidst overwhelming sorrow.

The third movement’s marking con delicatezza seems to refer more to a fragility of emotion than just a delicacy of touch; and the finale’s extraordinary subtlety of major/minor nuance, with its alternating use of playful and tender articulation, displays Schubert’s ability to prise open the most resolutely locked human feelings, and to touch the most hidden nerves.

from notes by Stephen Hough © 1998

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Details for CDA66004 track 1
Molto moderato
Recording date
15 April 1982
Recording venue
St George the Martyr, Queen Square, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
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  1. Schubert: Piano Sonata D960 (CDA66004)
    Disc 1 Track 1
    Release date: December 1986
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