Franz Schubert

Allegro in A minor

D947, Op. posth144 • “Lebensstürme”

About this work

We have publisher Antonio Diabelli to thank for concocting the colorful surrogate title for Franz Schubert's Allegro in A minor for piano four hands, D. 947, Lebensstürme. Schubert composed, or at least completed, the piece during May of his last year of life. However, Diabelli kept the work under wraps until 1840, by which time he felt that the Viennese public would care little for a single sonata movement; a new and more engaging title was needed to make certain that the piece drew a profit.

The Allegro in A minor is not the only piece for piano, four hands that Schubert crafted during 1828. There is also a Fantasie in F minor (D. 940) and, more importantly, a Rondo in A major (D. 951) that many believe to be the finale to the same unfinished sonata for which the Allegro in A minor is the opening movement. Certainly the Allegro is a work in the best sonata-allegro tradition -- one for which a programmatic title like "Lebensstürme" ("Life's Storm") is unfortunate. It is a movement of immediate and electrifying drama, and of sublime expression such as we might expect if it were a kind of tone-poem; but, then, so too are many of his late sonata-movement efforts, and no movie scripts are needed to unlock their secrets.

Were it not for the absolutely splendid pianism of the Allegro in A minor, and for the way that the two players' parts intertwine seamlessly, one might almost imagine the work to be a symphonic movement condensed for two players; its scope and scale are impressive. Within the first theme are contained both a kind of martial aggressiveness -- heard at the very opening -- and the kind of intricate, streamlined counterpoint common in Schubert's late works. The move into the chorale-like second theme is harmonically shocking, eschewing the traditional key relationships and simply slipping down one half-tone to A flat; Schubert does eventually migrate within this heavenly subject area into a more "proper" second-theme key of C major. A quiet resignation takes over as the piece moves into its final measures, but it is shattered by a forceful two-chord cadence at the very end.