A versatile, passionate musician, Mathieu Gaudet has pursued a remarkable career as a soloist, chamber musician, and conductor for the past 20 years. He commands a vast repertoire of works and has [...]
They spoke about it
Volume I: The First Romantic
Franz Schubert left the family home at the age of 20, tired of having to teach in order to provide for household expenses and eager to gain his independence and the freedom to compose without constraint. He settled in with his friend Schober, who came from a wealthier home, where several good pianos were housed. That was all Schubert needed to inspire him to compose six sonatas in a single year – 1817 – by far his most productive period in this respect.
Sonata No. 8 in F-sharp minor, D. 571
The Sonata in F-sharp minor, D.571 is the fifth in this cycle of six highly experimental works that carry the seeds of burgeoning Romanticism. The first movement is a kind of Ballade, beginning with a lengthy lamentation that evolves, nevertheless, into a brighter thematic group in the piano’s high register. The “Scherzo,” whose trio section already foreshadows the prosody of Schumann’s Carnaval, draws on Austrian folk rhythms. The “Andante” is shaped as a Romance, superimposing long tenor-range melodies with a pearl-style accompaniment in the right hand. As for the finale, its opening bravura theme leads to a more melodic motif before expiring over a sequence of repeated pianissimo chords of fearsome difficulty.
Like sonatas 2, 6, 10, and 11, Schubert’s Sonata No. 8 was left incomplete: the composer interrupted its writing at the beginning of the single movement’s re-exposition. It is also a fact that publishers often made a habit of issuing such works in separate movements. Although rarely performed because of its fragmentary nature, its exquisite, inspiring quality alone is an excellent reason for bringing it continually to light.
Sonata No. 17 in G major, Op. 78, D. 894
The great Sonata in G Major, D. 894, dated 1826, is the last one Schubert composed before producing, in 1828, his ultimate trilogy and testament to the sonata genre. The placid majesty of its first movement, whose opening chords resonate like waves upon calm water, is unequalled except for the very last sonata, D. 960. The dramatic power of its development section, reaching the fortississimo dynamic (fff), is unique in the composer’s output for piano. The ineffable charm of its second theme, with dotted rhythms in the bass line and a dominant pedal construction, is magnified by the 16th-note variation that immediately follows. The coda vanishes rather than ends, and we are left with the impression of having penetrated something of nature’s deepest secrets.
The sonata’s second, iconic movement alternates between the soft vocal-like tones of an ancient storyteller and the violent tearing of broken chords. The “Menuetto,” in B minor, begins seriously and purposefully, but the trio brushes all that away with elegant rhythms, stunning harmonies and lofty bell-like sounds in the dominant pedal, nothing short of sublime.
The final movement, perhaps the most original and fascinating of the four, is authentically festive and rustic, evoking the sound of bagpipes and building on a series of repeated rhythms. The second episode immerses us again in Schubert’s painful personal world: a drawn-out melody in C minor with arpeggiated chords, then an epic call to courage with left-hand octaves ceding to broken chords in the right hand. The coda strives for transcendence, giving the impression of rising all the way to heaven.
© Mathieu Gaudet
Translation: Rachelle Taylor