Tuesday, March 23, 2010

franz schubert | death and the maiden

schubert's 14th and (edit: not) final string quartet, written in 1824 and titled 'death and the maiden,' was, as you might expect, greatly influenced by the composer's deteriorating health, which finally struck franz down four years later. although this quartet never quite reaches the somber depth of shostakovich's 8th -- it seems as though friends often want to converse about the morbid aspects of life --, schubert achingly works through foreboding themes.

the allegro briskly battles between lush, happier motifs and a fortissimo pseudo-leitmotif, disjointly straddling life and death. for as long as possible the quartet fights off the inevitable until one final attack, followed by a sigh and a faded stumble into the next movement. the adante, for which the quartet is named, is a resigned affair, and even in its faster moments the strings are noticeably burdened. the brief scherzo offers reprise, a hopeful doubt, per chance? but this glimmer is swiftly quashed with the final movement. the presto is maddeningly irreverent, signaling not only schubert's embrace of his death but also some sort of rejuvenation.

this fourth movement may offer some insight into explaining the content of schubert's late works: in spite of disastrous health and constant critical rejection, franz was still able produce breathtakingly beautiful compositions; maybe acceptance of death somehow inspired both his genius and to be so daring?

the takács quartet expand on these themes perfectly, breathing emotion into this piece in all of the right ways. just as stilton mentioned below me, the takács too disorient one's sense of time, allowing the listener to engross him/herself in the feelings schubert sought to evoke. paired along here with the 14th is schubert's 13th -- a worthwhile listen, certainly; however, it seems a bit inappropriate to listen to it immediately after his 14th. i highly suggest separate sittings for each. hear


  1. Great pieces and great performances - thanks for this. A note of pedantry, though: Schubert wrote one further string quartet two years after "Death and the Maiden". It goes on forever. Wonderful, it is.

  2. so he did...thanks for giving me a heads up on my faceplant