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Schubert's late sonatas (Read 709 times)

Offline billym

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Schubert's late sonatas
« on: May 14, 2021, 08:37:24 PM »
Hi everyone, I am curious about Schubert's late sonatas. I have only listened to them a few times each and I am struggling to understand them, in the way I have connected with many compositions Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, etc., and even some of Schubert's other compositions like the impromptus. Being a lesser-experienced pianist, I am not sure why these three sonatas (D 958-960) are considered to be so important in the repertoire. I'm hoping to start a discussion on these works. Also, what's the best recording?

I'm finding that sometimes you can work to appreciate and like music that you initially felt indifferent to. That's what I'm hoping to do with these compositions, I just don't really know where to begin. I welcome all of your insight! :)
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. It's solid advice tbh.

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Schubert: Sonata 21
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Offline brogers70

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #1 on: May 14, 2021, 08:59:25 PM »
Hi everyone, I am curious about Schubert's late sonatas. I have only listened to them a few times each and I am struggling to understand them, in the way I have connected with many compositions Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, etc., and even some of Schubert's other compositions like the impromptus. Being a lesser-experienced pianist, I am not sure why these three sonatas (D 958-960) are considered to be so important in the repertoire. I'm hoping to start a discussion on these works. Also, what's the best recording?

I'm finding that sometimes you can work to appreciate and like music that you initially felt indifferent to. That's what I'm hoping to do with these compositions, I just don't really know where to begin. I welcome all of your insight! :)

I love Schubert's late sonatas; I like Uchida's and Brendel's performances, but I like others, too.  The C minor is fantastic - how can you not love the last movement Tarantella? The Bb is such a mixture of warmth, nostalgia, lurking darkness. I believe Schubert knew he was dying while he was writing he last sonatas and my teacher claims they are all, in one way or another, about approaching death, looking back on life, nostalgia, dread, unease. I think they are great, but if you aren't turned on by them, wait a few years and listen again.

Offline billym

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #2 on: May 15, 2021, 04:43:35 AM »
I love Schubert's late sonatas; I like Uchida's and Brendel's performances, but I like others, too.  The C minor is fantastic - how can you not love the last movement Tarantella? The Bb is such a mixture of warmth, nostalgia, lurking darkness. I believe Schubert knew he was dying while he was writing he last sonatas and my teacher claims they are all, in one way or another, about approaching death, looking back on life, nostalgia, dread, unease. I think they are great, but if you aren't turned on by them, wait a few years and listen again.

I've only listened to the recording by Daniel Barenboim, so I'll have a look at those, Brendel never disappoints. But not for a while, as you said. I think I can agree that it may take time to understand, especially if there is so much nostalgia and complexity involved with it. Thanks for your reply.
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. It's solid advice tbh.

Offline dw4rn

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #3 on: May 15, 2021, 06:26:38 AM »
if you aren't turned on by them, wait a few years and listen again.

I'm tempted to just say this - but on the other hand, I commend your curiosity and ambition to really give it a try before you go on to something else. Definitely listen to a couple of different recordings. Radu Lupu in the B-flat for instance.

And perhaps listen more to other music by Schubert. Have you listened to the string quintet? That was also completed just months before Schubert's death, has quite a lot in common with the last piano sonatas, and is one of his most loved and admired chamber music works. Perhaps you'll find something in there that will bring you closer to the sonatas. 

Offline thalbergmad

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #4 on: May 15, 2021, 05:11:10 PM »
Like many great works, the late sonatas of Schubert are not instant gratification, but reward those who persist.
I totally support the comment above. Radu Lupu plays these sonatas like I would love to.

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Offline j_tour

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #5 on: May 15, 2021, 05:24:17 PM »
Brendel never disappoints.

That is a true statement!  Some people complain that he's too dry and meticulous, but he was the first pianist who really opened up Beethoven to me on solo piano.

I think he inhabits the milieu with extreme aplomb and finesse.

Like many great works, the late sonatas of Schubert are not instant gratification, but reward those who persist.
I totally support the comment above. Radu Lupu plays these sonatas like I would love to.

Thal

Yes.  The Schubert sonatas are something I'll have to begin looking at more closely, thanks to this thread.

I only know the Lieder and some of the impromptus, just from playing them (the former) and reading (the latter).

I think there was a documentary about Richter where they had a little clip from Gould saying something like, "Richter is the only one who didn't make me despise the repeats in the Bb sonata."

Something like that.  I could be mistaken, but I don't think so.

I think it is a good occasion to investigate more thoroughly the Schubert sonatas.  I don't really want to fire up the laserjet, but that's the only way for me to see what's what.
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Offline lelle

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #6 on: May 16, 2021, 07:58:56 PM »
I love Schubert's late sonatas; I like Uchida's and Brendel's performances, but I like others, too.  The C minor is fantastic - how can you not love the last movement Tarantella? The Bb is such a mixture of warmth, nostalgia, lurking darkness. I believe Schubert knew he was dying while he was writing he last sonatas and my teacher claims they are all, in one way or another, about approaching death, looking back on life, nostalgia, dread, unease. I think they are great, but if you aren't turned on by them, wait a few years and listen again.

I can see that for the B flat major sonata, but not the late one in A major. I tried studying it for a couple months at one time, working on all the movements etc. but it just never connected. It was sort of nice but it didn't seem to make a deeper impact on me. Perhaps I should give it a go again sometime.

Offline mjames

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #7 on: May 17, 2021, 07:28:29 AM »
Just play them.

Offline pianophile

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #8 on: August 08, 2021, 04:55:57 PM »
I love the last 2, but am quite unfamiliar with the C-minor. The one word which I think captures the overarching mood or ethos of the final Sonatas is “bittersweet”; they are like Schubert’s “farewell address”, a grand parting gesture as he takes leave of the world. Hannah Arendt quoted (in “The Human Condition”) Isak Dinesen saying “Anything can be borne if it can be put into a story”; this is in fact the overarching theme of ALL Schubert’s music. Personal misery and loneliness is presupposed, and death (including suicidal thoughts) was a seemingly relentless obsession. Yet, the music has uplift because sad music is fundamentally both cathartic and uplifting.

Schubert to me seems at his best when the music crystallizes this paradox of joy and triumph in aesthetically represented sadness and gloom. Although the final B-flat sonata abounds in this, these aspects are more pronounced, in my view, in the A-Major. The B-flat I interpret as his answer to the Beethoven Hammerklavier (also of course in B-Flat), a key often used for the more formal and stately musical event, such as a valedictory address. It is the tonality of high musical oratory, and both B-flat sonatas are in this vein, like Brahms’ monumental 2nd concerto, Brahms’s op. 24 Variations. So while absolutely present, the personal outpouring aspect is merged with the high oratory style in D.960.

For the real Schubert ethos on the aforementioned respects, I think you have them in most concentrated form in the D.959 scherzo and finale, while the slow movements tempestuous raging middle section captures Schubert’s raging tempestuous side. But throughout all these works, there is a defiant determination to “triumph over relentless adversity through music” similar to that impulse on Beethoven. The finale of 960 and A-major section of its slow movement make this very explicit.

I love Kempf I’m these pieces, and Perahia as well. But there are dozens of great versions, because any pianist of requisite depth will engage with these and have something very personal and moving to say with/about them. Yudina is another name that comes to mind. Many are extremely partial to Richter, whom I “ambivalently” admire.

Offline pianophile

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #9 on: August 08, 2021, 05:26:32 PM »
Btw, I’ve always felt that Beethoven’s op. 28 (listen to Kempff) is in a similar vein like a kind of “final testament” as Beethoven seemingly “ends a career.” It is exactly the midpoint in his piano sonata opus, as it happens the work which will turn out to close the first half. But it ends a career in that it closes out what we call his “early” period, a completely different style (more backward looking, focused on Haydn style). With op. 31, Beethoven opens a whole new chapter, his “middle period” in which he declares full aesthetic autonomy, moving towards heroic rhetoric.

So op. 28 is his final “classical”, pre-romantic (yet incipiently looking forward as he says farewell to the earlier conservatism) period work, in which he grapples with his deepest themes of the natural cycle of life (including the theme of death), and spiritual regeneration.

I mention all this because of you get very, very familiar with Beethoven’s op. 28, it may give you a very interesting vista on similar aspects in late Schubert. Fundamentally dark, but willfully determined to find hope and light amid the darkness. And op. 28 and D.960 end in virtually the same triumphant gestures, as if to say: “Don’t ever give up, where there are life, music, and the possibility of rebirth, there is always hope!” But at the same time, Schubert’s sense of redemption seems much more mundane, and Beethoven’s more metaphysical. Schubert never aims at or conceives of any kind of self-transcendence. Schubert is all about the “self”; and Beethoven is always looking beyond the self, to something higher.

Offline lelle

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #10 on: August 08, 2021, 10:17:43 PM »
I love the last 2, but am quite unfamiliar with the C-minor. The one word which I think captures the overarching mood or ethos of the final Sonatas is “bittersweet”; they are like Schubert’s “farewell address”, a grand parting gesture as he takes leave of the world. Hannah Arendt quoted (in “The Human Condition”) Isak Dinesen saying “Anything can be borne if it can be put into a story”; this is in fact the overarching theme of ALL Schubert’s music. Personal misery and loneliness is presupposed, and death (including suicidal thoughts) was a seemingly relentless obsession. Yet, the music has uplift because sad music is fundamentally both cathartic and uplifting.

Schubert to me seems at his best when the music crystallizes this paradox of joy and triumph in aesthetically represented sadness and gloom. Although the final B-flat sonata abounds in this, these aspects are more pronounced, in my view, in the A-Major. The B-flat I interpret as his answer to the Beethoven Hammerklavier (also of course in B-Flat), a key often used for the more formal and stately musical event, such as a valedictory address. It is the tonality of high musical oratory, and both B-flat sonatas are in this vein, like Brahms’ monumental 2nd concerto, Brahms’s op. 24 Variations. So while absolutely present, the personal outpouring aspect is merged with the high oratory style in D.960.

For the real Schubert ethos on the aforementioned respects, I think you have them in most concentrated form in the D.959 scherzo and finale, while the slow movements tempestuous raging middle section captures Schubert’s raging tempestuous side. But throughout all these works, there is a defiant determination to “triumph over relentless adversity through music” similar to that impulse on Beethoven. The finale of 960 and A-major section of its slow movement make this very explicit.

I love Kempf I’m these pieces, and Perahia as well. But there are dozens of great versions, because any pianist of requisite depth will engage with these and have something very personal and moving to say with/about them. Yudina is another name that comes to mind. Many are extremely partial to Richter, whom I “ambivalently” admire.

I'd love to hear some more of your thoughts on how all of this applies on that A major sonata D.959. I played all of it a few years ago but it just never connected with me. I found it almost dull apart from the second movement. I like the B flat major sonata though.

Offline pianophile

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Re: Schubert's late sonatas
«Reply #11 on: August 09, 2021, 07:27:04 AM »
Sorry, can't go into detail right now, but what I was saying about " bittersweet" and farewells, that to me is what the finale of D. 959 is about. But it's strangely genial and pleasant, like a beautifully sunny funeral following a relative's long painful illness. So sad but happy and comforting at the same time. You know the worst is over, it's like that pleasant warmth that overtakes you after a good cry and you've calmed down. When you make IV sing, it brings all these out. The first movement is so Schubertian in using arpeggiated chords to tell a tragic narrative, making melody totally subordinate to the emotional valence each particular chord carries. (A-major being pure light-hear-electricity, like in Beethoven's 7th Symphony or Chopin Military Polonaise). It's the key of raw power and violence, and by implication, the bearer of bringer of pure life force but also death, and to me IV signifies the conquest of death through culture and form, but it's still about death and has that character of a "sunny funeral," which as I said is pleasant in a quintessentially "bittersweet" way. If you have this in mind, the spirit of the music will be very clear, just as you would do well to think of cannon fire or lightning strikes (or perhaps lightning igniting a cannon, even better) in the very opening of I. Think of the. Sonata as a whole as a journey of taming these violent forces into the final movement's bittersweet serenity. CONSOLATION, like a beautiful hint of incipient spring, with the ground still snow-covered. Or Berlin's tranquil, sun-soaked rubble following defeat, as denizens start to rebuild their lives and city: