The second piece on our Musical Friendships Chamber Concert (3:00 pm, Sunday November 4, Zion Lutheran Church in Clinton) will be Nocturne for Piano, Violin & Violoncello by Franz Schubert. It will be performed by Nadia Wirchnianski, piano; Asa Church, violin; and Robert Whipple, violoncello.

Please enjoy the following program notes:

Franz Peter Schubert(1797-1828) is considered, like Beethoven, a transitional composer between the late Classical-ism of Mozart and Haydn and the early Romanticism of Mendelssohn and Schumann. He became the embodiment of the long-suffering artist who labors to produce great masterworks which are met with rejection, only to find acceptance just as his young life is cut short by cruel fate.

Born in Himmelpfortgrund, Austria, Schubert showed a predilection for music at an early age, and he was nurtured in these native tendencies by his father, a school master, and an older brother, Ignaz. In additional to his skills at playing the violin, piano, and organ, Schubert possessed an exceptional voice that earned him a position at the Stadtkonvikt, which trained young aspiring vocalists to one day sing at the Imperial Court. In due course in 1808, he received a scholarship to the Imperial Court’s chapel choir, where he impressed the court organist Wenzel Ruzicka, not only with his voice but with his skill as a violinist in the student orchestra. He was promoted to leader of the orchestra, and, in Ruzicka’s absence, young Schubert conducted as well. While there, Schubert studied with the eminent court composer Antonio Salieri, who pronounced the young man a musical genius.

When his voice broke in 1812, Schubert left the Court – although he continued to study with Salieri for another three years – and soon entered a teacher training college in Vienna, after which he took an assistant’s position at his father’s school.

Composing seemed to come naturally to Schubert, and he had an extraordinary ear for melody. While he worked as a schoolmaster, he composed several works including piano pieces, string quartets, symphonies, and an opera. Inspired by a great trove of Romantic poetry from German writers, Schubert began to put their words to music in the form of Lieds (Songs). Two such Lieds based on works by Johann Wolfgang Goethe took Vienna by storm and made Schubert a name among parlor composers: Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel), and Erlkönig (Fairy King).

Having found an audience for his music, Schubert left teaching to seek his fortune with music full time. Soon the prolific composer produced a startling array of works in various genres, from operas to lieder. A piano work Sonata in B-flat Major was followed by an operetta Die Zwillingsbrüder (The Twin Brothers) was followed by incidental music for a play Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp) was followed by a string quartet movement Quartettsatz, and so on.

Despite its growing popularity, publishers were reluctant to offer Schubert’s music because they considered it so nontraditional that it would not sell. Yet, in Vienna, Schubert’s songs and dances were so popular that wealthy citizens gave concert parties called Schubertiaden to enliven their Viennese social life.

During the mid-1820s, Schubert’s fortunes waxed and waned, from a modicum of recognition to near abject poverty. So dire did his circumstances become that he ventured briefly back into teaching. To add misery to his uncertainty, he contracted a venereal disease, possibly syphilis, that was slowly but surely killing him.

Suffering terribly as he did, nevertheless, he continued to produce music at a phenomenal rate in both the chamber and orchestral realms. By 1826, after years of public and official neglect, Schubert had behind him an impressive body of work including eight symphonies, a major song cycle, notable operas, and numerous chamber pieces. This extraordinary output was instrumental in his growing popularity in Vienna and with his negotiations with several music publishing firms. However, the death of Ludwig van Beethoven hit Schubert hard, as it did most of Vienna.

As if sensing his own approaching death, Schubert continued to pour his soul into his compositions, completing the Great C Major Symphony and the last great string quartet, among other masterworks. It was in these last months of his life that the ailing composer turned to the piano trio as another means of expression. Aside from a single movement composed during the summer of 1812 (the so called Sonatensatzin B flat major, D. 28), two piano trios and a nocturne of 1828 are his only ventures in that format.

The Piano Trio in E-flat major (Nocturne) (Adagio only), D. 897 (Op. posth. 148) This substantial one-movement work is probably a discarded movement for the Piano Trio No 1 in B-flat major, D. 898. One scholar lauded the rich, melodic content of the movement:

Sensuous rather than emotionally probing, extravagant in both ornamentation and expression, the Notturno unfolds as a bewitching succession of instrumental and harmonic colors over a static rhythmic and tonal framework of startling simplicity.

The Nocturno, Op Posth. 148, as it is often observed, was found among Schubert’s papers after his death, without title, signature, or date. It was not published until two decades after the composer’s death by Anton Diabelli in 1845.

~program notes by William Driver

Nocturne for Piano, Violin & Violoncello – Program Notes