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The first, D845, belongs to the early spring of 1825 following a miserable year which included a brief return to teaching at his father’s schoolhouse and confirmation of his syphilis. His music matured almost overnight: in works such as his Octet, the string quartet ‘Death and the Maiden’ and the ‘Grand Duo’ sonata a new depth of feeling emerged suggesting he was on the threshold of an extraordinarily productive final phase. This was to include a renewed interest in piano writing, notwithstanding earlier failures to secure critical attention or the rejection of his austere Sonata in A minor (D784). But Schubert would contribute three piano sonatas to the repertoire in 1825: those in C major (D840), D major (D850) and this characterful work in A minor.
Two contrasting themes shape the opening movement’s changeable mood: the first, heard at the outset in unison, is rather shy, and is soon followed by an assertive, defiant figure launched by descending octaves. The first theme, now in variant form, plays a significant role in the chromatically-rich development—its sense of foreboding gaining impetus until a surprise shift to A major temporarily dispels the unease. It is, however, the insistent secondary idea that eventually gains prominence and the movement ends on a note of tragic grandeur.
The slow movement comprises five variations on a simple melody carried initially by an inner voice. Following the first variation (with the melody now at the top), decoration and embellishment increasingly occupy the blithe second and third variations. Dramatic tensions disturb the minor key third, while the fourth (in A flat major) brings a certain élan and yields to a final variation, now in a serene C major. Persistent patterns in the A minor Scherzo are offset by flexible phrase lengths, varied voicing and a change to the tonic major, the whole relieved by a central Trio in a gently rocking F major. A busy Rondo Finale—marked by quavers with clear two-part textures—provides a brilliant close to this fascinating work.
from notes by David Truslove © 2020
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