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Piano Sonata in A minor, D845

No 16; Op 42

‘To hear and see his piano compositions played by himself was a real pleasure’, recalled Albert Stadler many years after the composer’s death. After a performance of the slow movement from his expansive A minor Sonata, D845 Schubert himself reported, ‘Several people assured me that under my hands the keys became singing voices …’ The implied cantabile playing style provides a clue to the essence of Schubert’s piano writing in which typically a long-spun melody unfolds above a smooth rippling accompaniment. Despite his incomparable lyrical gifts and poetic sensitivity his sonatas have never achieved the same stature as Beethoven’s, yet for sheer accessibility there can be few better introductions to Schubert’s twenty-one sonatas than the two captivating works presented here.

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


Schubert: A Schubert Journey
Studio Master: SIGCD645Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Schubert: Piano Music, Vol. 5
Studio Master: SIGCD835Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available


Movement 1: Moderato
Track 1 on SIGCD645 CD5 [12'00] Download only
Track 1 on SIGCD835 [12'00] Download only
Movement 2: Andante poco moto
Track 2 on SIGCD645 CD5 [12'27] Download only
Track 2 on SIGCD835 [12'27] Download only
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Track 3 on SIGCD645 CD5 [7'15] Download only
Track 3 on SIGCD835 [7'15] Download only
Movement 4: Rondo: Allegro vivace
Track 4 on SIGCD645 CD5 [5'20] Download only
Track 4 on SIGCD835 [5'20] Download only

Track-specific metadata for SIGCD645 disc 5 track 3

Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Recording date
31 January 2019
Recording venue
Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Wales
Recording producer
Judith Sherman
Recording engineer
Mike Hatch
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: A Schubert Journey (SIGCD645)
    Disc 5 Track 3
    Release date: November 2020
    Download only
  2. Schubert: Piano Music, Vol. 5 (SIGCD835)
    Disc 1 Track 3
    Release date: March 2020
    Download only
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