Movement 1: Allegro ma non troppo
Movement 2: Andante
Movement 3: Menuetto: Allegretto
Movement 4: Allegro moderato
The minuet is not the only portion of the A minor Quartet to be based on pre-existing material. The opening pages of the slow movement are transcribed from the B flat major Entr’acte in the incidental music Schubert had recently written for the play Rosamunde. The theme, with its pervasive dactylic rhythm, is typically Schubertian, and it was to reappear in a slightly different form in the composer’s famous B flat major Impromptu for piano of 1827 (D935 No 3). What is remarkable about the Quartet’s slow movement is the manner in which Schubert manages to imbue the innocuous-sounding tune with symphonic tension.
In marked contrast to Schubert’s D minor Quartet, all four movements of the A minor work begin pianissimo, and it was perhaps this unusual feature that led Moritz von Schwind to remark on the delicateness of the work as a whole. In the opening movement, the melancholy main theme is actually preceded by two bars of bare accompaniment—partly in order to soften the first violin’s thematic entry, but also to throw into relief the shuddering rhythmic figure that underpins the accompaniment. The same figure runs like a guiding thread through the Quartet’s opening pages, and it makes a dramatic return much later, at the climax of the development.
As for the finale, it is a much gentler affair than the whirlwind tarantella that concludes ‘Death and the Maiden’. There is, perhaps, a hint of the gypsy style in its theme, with its ‘Hungarian’ grace-notes. They make a return, transferred from violin to cello, at the movement’s climax, and again during the closing bars. The main second idea, like the first, is given out pianissimo—this time in the style of a distant march. At the end, the music seems on the point of fading away, before Schubert appends two peremptory chords to bring proceedings to an emphatic close after all.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2006