Piano Sonata No.14

Franz Schubert

Piano Sonata No.14 in A minor

D784, Op. posth143 • “Grande Sonate”

About this work

Franz Schubert composed his Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 784, in February, 1823; it was not published until 11 years after his death (as Opus 143). Four years had passed since he last turned out a work in the genre, and nearly every aspect of his life and music had changed considerably and irrevocably during the interval. Schubert had contracted syphilis in 1822, and during the early months of the following year he was largely confined to his father's house in the hope that his ravaged health might be salvaged. Musically speaking, Schubert had finally, starting with the Quartettsatz of 1820, found ways to pour into his instrumental music the same essence of his peculiar genius that had long animated his lieder. It is therefore in no way surprising that this A minor Sonata is in most ways completely unlike the charming, generally docile piano sonatas written between 1817 and 1819.

The three movements of the Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 784, show an almost total disregard for the conventions of Classical pianism. Harmonic figuration and melodic ornamentation as it was known to Haydn, Mozart, or even Beethoven are absent, and in their place is a kind of sparse, basic texture that has often been called "unpianistic."

The first movement is built out of large blocks of sound, often in bare octaves, that occasionally burst forth into aggressive dotted gestures or, with the arrival of the pianissimo second subject in E major, bell-like quarter notes. The rhythm throughout the movement can only be described as hyper-repetitive; behind this apparently static screen (an impression aided by the profusion of long-sustained pedal-points), however, is a very potent fury.

The following Andante is, by comparison, warm and engaging; its lovely arch-shaped melody is eventually thrown into the left hand and shadowed, two octaves above, by the triplets of the right hand.

The finale is a wild thing composed mostly in running triplets; there is a constant kinetic energy, made all the more palpable by furious imitation between the hands. A more melodious idea occasionally breaks in to dispel this demonic undercurrent (the movement is a kind of rondo).