At a Glance
Schubert's final trilogy of piano sonatas presents an Everest to
performer and audience alike. Imbued with the composer's hallmark
lyricism, the sonatas are nonetheless austere, diffident, and
ambiguous. All three were composed within the space of a month,
just weeks before Schubert became ill and died in his brother's
house at the age of 31.
After Schubert's death, his friends and family fought hard to
construct an acceptable image of a dear, departed genius. Portrayed
as a warm, loving, and cozy chap, recent research has shown that
Schubert was just as likely to have been aloof, alcoholic, and
indignant. These piano sonatas also demonstrate how that official
description was likely one-sided.
Along with the 1828 String Quintet and the Schwanengesang
songs, Schubert's final sonatas remain impossible to pin down. From
the austere and often embittered C-Minor Sonata comes the pregnant
longing of the A Major and the warm regret of the final
B-flat–Major masterpiece. Toying with our expectations, they push
far beyond the traditional bounds of homely music making. In short,
Schubert's last works are bloody, bold, and resolute, energetically
belying the frailty of the composer who created them.