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Piano Sonata in A major, D959

composer

 
The Sonata No 20 in A major was written in 1828 and is Schubert’s penultimate sonata, completed only a few months before his death. He wrote his last three piano sonatas between the spring and autumn of 1828, and seems to have intended them as a set, as there are thematic resemblances both within the individual sonata movements and between the three sonatas themselves. These sonatas were not published until ten years after Schubert’s death, and took a long time to be accepted as the late masterpieces they are, alongside the Quintet in C major and the songs later collected as Schwanengesang.

The first movement is in A major, marked Allegro, and opens with declamatory chords over an A pedal, followed by downward-tumbling arpeggios. The second subject is song-like, harmonised in four parts. As is usual in classical sonata form, the second subject exposition is in the dominant, E major. The development section moves between C major and B major, and is based on a version of the second subject. The recapitulation returns to the tonic, and visits the tonic minor, before the coda builds on the opening theme, played more quietly, and the movement ends with delicate, pianissimo arpeggios ascending and descending the length of the keyboard.

The second movement, Andantino, is in F sharp minor (sharing a key signature of three sharps with A major) and opens with a plaintive, melancholy theme, where the descending seconds sound like a sigh. The movement is in ABA form, and the middle section is a turbulent fantasia, wandering through distant keys and punctuated by crashing chords concluding in C sharp minor. A recitative-like, declamatory passage broken by dramatic pauses leads back to the A section, now modified by ornamentation in its accompaniment.

The Scherzo is back in A major, and opens with brisk, broken chords that are a continuation of those that ended the previous movement, thus linking the two together. There is something barcarolle-like in the lively sextuplets of the Scherzo’s B section, which ends with a falling C sharp major scale for which Schubert gives no harmonic preparation. The D major trio is also in ABA (ternary) form, and uses hand-crossing to set up its own contrasting texture before the movement concludes with a reprise of the Scherzo.

The final movement is a lyrical Rondo, and its melody has been described as an answer to the question posed by the sonata’s opening theme. It takes the form ABA – development – ABA – coda, and is therefore in rondo-sonata form. During the development, Schubert returns to C sharp minor which has already made several appearances in the sonata, another element that links the movements together. The coda brings back a broken version of the first subject, again broken up by dramatic full-bar pauses, followed by a presto section. The sonata ends in a reverse of its opening, with an ascending arpeggio followed by the declamatory chords played in reverse.

from notes by David Truslove © 2019

Recordings

Schubert: Piano Music, Vol. 1
Studio Master: SIGCD831Download onlyStudio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available

Details

Movement 1: Allegro
Track 1 on SIGCD831 [16'02] Download only
Movement 2: Andantino
Track 2 on SIGCD831 [8'35] Download only
Movement 3: Scherzo: Allegro vivace
Track 3 on SIGCD831 [5'02] Download only
Movement 4: Rondo: Allegretto
Track 4 on SIGCD831 [12'35] Download only

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