Schubert D 664 Analysis Essay

It was long assumed that Franz Schubert's Piano Sonata in A major, D. 664 (the shorter and earlier of two piano sonatas in that key) was composed during the middle months of 1825 -- the same period that saw the production of three other piano sonatas (D. 840, 845, and 850). The complete Schubert works' edition of the late nineteenth century -- still today a prevalent and vastly influential publication -- attributes the work to that year; more recent thinking, however, has relocated the piece in the summer of 1819, which Schubert spent vacationing with a close friend in Steyr, some hundred miles to the west of Vienna.

Schubert makes reference in a personal letter written during that summer to having composed a new sonata; stylistically speaking, this delightful and, compared to the other pre-1826 sonatas, well-known A major Sonata fits the bill quite nicely. It is composed not in the Classical four movements but rather in just three; there is no minuet/scherzo movement.

The leisurely and melodious opening movement (Allegro moderato) has several outstanding features, not the least of which is a gentle second theme that pays rhythmic homage to the Allegretto of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony (neither the first nor the last time Schubert would pay such tribute to that movement). The harmonies surrounding the opening theme are rich and full, but the tune itself is crafted from translucent material. Schubert calls for the entirety of the development and recapitulation to be repeated, something common in the eighteenth century but almost unheard of in Schubert's music.

The central Andante has an almost obsessive aspect to it, not reduced in any way by the absolute saturation of the movement with a single rhythmic thought; as the opening music is reprised in the second half of the movement, Schubert allows the two hands to play in canon with one another. Humor, or at least playfulness, is a key ingredient of the finale -- just listen to the stop and go rhythm of the second subject, and to the way that the forzando chords of the coda briefly get lost within their own chromatic sphere. The final bars of the Sonata are as tender a recount of the opening melody, pianissimo and molto legato, as one can imagine.

Schubert's Sonata in A major, D. 664, published posthumously in 1829 as Opus 120, has been plausibly dated to 1819, which would place it in proximity with the 'Trout' Quintet in the same key of A major, and with a similar air of relaxation. In the summer of that year Schubert had accompanied Vogl on his annual excursion to his native Steyr. There his acquaintance with Sylvester Paumgartner led to the composition of the quintet, making use of Schubert's song Die Forelle (The Trout).

It has been suggested that the sonata, which reflects much the same mood of delight in the Styrian countryside, is to be identified with a sonata written for the pianist Josefine von Koller, whom Schubert met on the occasion of this first visit to Steyr. The first movement, with its song-like principal theme, breathes the air of the country, its serenity only briefly broken in the central development. The D major Andante opens with some harmonic ambiguity, implicit in the principal theme, but any passing sadness is dispelled in the final Allegro.

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