Movement 1: Allegro vivace
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Scherzo: Presto
Movement 4: Thema: Andantino – Variations 1-5 – Allegretto
Movement 5: Finale: Allegro giusto
Schubert’s Quintet for pianoforte, violin, viola, cello and double bass with the variations on his ‘Forelle’ is probably known to you. He wrote it at the special request of my friend Sylvester Paumgartner, who was completely captivated by the precious little song. It was his wish that the Quintet should maintain the form and instrumentation of Hummel’s Quintet—recte Septet—which at that time was quite new. Schubert soon finished the piece and kept the field to himself.
Sylvester Paumgartner was assistant manager of the iron mines at Steyr, in Upper Austria. He was a music-lover, as well as an amateur cellist of limited ability, and his house on the Town Square was the focus of musical activity in Steyr. Schubert is known to have visited the town in the summers of 1819, 1823 and 1825—each time in the company of the famous singer Johann Michael Vogl. Since the autograph score has been lost, we cannot be entirely sure as to which of these three occasions saw the composition of the ‘Trout’ Quintet. However, Stadler mentions that the Hummel Quintet which served Schubert as his model was new, and since that work was issued in 1816 it seems likely that the ‘Trout’ was written during Schubert’s first visit to Steyr. (Stadler’s reference to Hummel’s work as being a Septet is quite accurate: in its original form it was scored for piano, flute, oboe, horn, viola, cello and double bass. The composer’s own arrangement for an ensemble identical to that of the ‘Trout’ Quintet was issued simultaneously with the Septet version.)
The ‘Trout’ Quintet is the first of Schubert’s four large-scale works to incorporate a series of variations on one of his songs. (The others are the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy for piano, the ‘Death and the Maiden’ string quartet; and the C major Fantasy for violin and piano D934, with its variations on the setting of Rückert’s ‘Sei mir gegrüsst!’.) Of the four, the Quintet is the most relaxed and easy-going. It is, indeed, house-music of the highest quality, and the layout of its piano part, as often as not with the two hands in parallel octaves, ensures maximum clarity and lightness, while at the same time reflecting the sonority of the primo part in another form of domestic music-making Schubert made so much his own—the piano duet.
A peculiarity of the ‘Trout’ Quintet is that no fewer than three of its movements have a second half that reproduces the first half exactly, but in a different key. The scheme is one that enabled Schubert to write a work of large proportions in a less labour-intensive manner than might otherwise have been possible, but the process is carried out with such ingenuousness, and the musical material itself is so engaging, that it would be churlish to complain.
The first movement’s tempo marking of Allegro vivace is unusually quick for Schubert, yet within that tempo the music manages at first to convey a feeling of spaciousness and breadth. The mysterious opening bars actually sound like a slow introduction—particularly since the appearance of the movement’s main theme is delayed until the eventual return of the piano’s initial sweeping fortissimo arpeggio. The introductory impression is strengthened by the fact that the recapitulation omits the subdued opening bars altogether, and begins instead with the theme itself.
The slow second movement presents three main themes, each given out in a different key. The F major first theme is followed, in a typically Schubertian juxtaposition of tonalities, by a melancholy idea in the distant realm of F sharp minor. It features the mellow sound of viola and cello moving together in parallel thirds, in a manner that seems to look forward a full decade to the great C major String Quintet D956. The third theme, in a sharply dotted rhythm, is less stable, beginning in D major before eventually coming to rest in G major. At this point the music simply slides up a semitone and the whole process begins again. Since, however, an exact repetition of the movement’s first half would have caused the piece to come to an end in the wrong key, Schubert inserts a single additional bar into the closing theme which is sufficient to divert the music back towards the home key. So surreptitiously is the switch of key carried out that the listener is none the wiser.
The scherzo is a piece of Beethovenian energy, though its second half introduces a moment of stillness that recalls the broad opening bars of the first movement. The trio is a subdued piece, too, and one in which the sound of distant horns lurks never very far beneath the music’s surface.
The famous theme of the variation fourth movement is scored for the pianissimo strings alone, so that we seem to be hearing it from afar; and by a wonderful stroke of inspiration the ‘darting’ piano accompaniment which in the song so vividly conjures up the wriggling of the elusive trout is reserved for the final variation, where the tempo quickens from Andantino to Allegretto. Meanwhile, the gentle first two variations are followed by a brilliant variation in running demisemiquavers for the piano. A forceful interlude in the minor gives way to a warmly lyrical variation in which the cello steps into the limelight. Beginning in B flat major the music moves, in a long modulatory passage, into ever flatter regions, eventually preparing the ground for the final variation, back in the home key of D major.
The finale begins momentarily away from the tonic, with a dramatic long-held note—a gesture that anticipates the similar opening of the finale of Schubert’s ‘Grand Duo’ Sonata for piano duet, as well as that of his last piano sonata, D960. Although the principal theme is rondo-like, with an internal repeat of its second half, the piece is actually a sonata form with the second stage of its exposition unusually not in the dominant key (E major), but a whole tone lower, in D major. There is no development section at all, and the close of the exposition is simply followed by a re-run of the entire piece set a fifth higher, so that the music comes full-circle back to the home key. Of the three mirror-schemes in the work, it is surely the least satisfying, but even here the music’s wide-ranging harmonic pattern is sufficient to avoid any feeling of repetitiveness.
The ‘Trout’ Quintet was one of Schubert’s works that were acquired shortly after his death by the publisher Joseph Czerný. In a self-serving advertisement in the Wiener allgemeine Theaterzeitung on 21 May 1829, Czerný made a special plea on behalf of the Quintet:
Among the numerous manuscripts left behind by the beloved composer Franz Schubert, of which the majority have been purchased along with the rights of publication by the industrious and circumspect music publisher Joseph Czerný, was a grand Quintet for pianoforte, violin, viola, violoncello and double bass. Since this Quintet has already been performed in several circles at the publisher’s instigation, and declared by those musical connoisseurs present to be a masterpiece, we deem it our duty to draw the musical public’s attention to this latest work by the unforgettable composer, and announce at the same time that it has appeared in print not only in the aforementioned instrumentation, but also for piano duet in a very effective arrangement by the publisher himself, at whose artistic establishment it may be obtained.
The edition issued by Czerný differs in one important detail from the set of parts copied out by Albert Stadler for the first performance of the work. On that occasion, the double bass, or violone, clearly lacked the lowest notes called for in Schubert’s score, and Stadler duly adapted the part so that it did not fall below a bottom E. There is no doubt, however, that the instrument Schubert had in mind had a compass reaching all the way down to C. The additional notes are particularly effective in the Quintet’s second movement, where they enable the stringed instrument to echo the piano’s dotted-rhythm octave leaps in the closing subject.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2006