Sunday, March 14, 2010

Schubert - Piano Sonatas D. 894, 575, 840

Schubert's late works can seem to challenge normal ideas of how music exists within time. They do it both on the small scale (the endless chords that open the string quintet, the long notes and silences at the start of the G major quartet) and on the large (the ninth symphony goes on forever, the second half of the Trout quintet's last movement is a literal repetition of the first, only in a different key: "What, again?!").

The first movement of the piano sonata D. 894 is similar, especially when Sviatoslav Richter plays it. It is marked "molto moderato", which leaves plenty of room for interpretation, and Richter uses it all (for an idea of just how unusual his reading is,
compare it to Wilhelm Kempff's recording). At this speed, the rapid figure introduced early on doesn't disturb anyone's peace, yet the whole is far from stuck on one level: in fact, the changes of dynamic and tonal area sthat Schubert throws at us seem all the more sudden for arriving more slowly. The problem of over-repetition is dodged by slowing things to a pace where you think on the level of the note, not the phrase; phrases can't be repeated if they do not exist to begin with. And though the music is rhythmically regular, the idea of a
beat is destroyed; there is just one note following another at a pace without reference to anything but itself. Schubert emerges, in fact, as an unlikely ancestor to Morton Feldman - better-dressed, with cleaner fingernails, fancier, but just as ready to surprise you with a sudden shout, and just as unconcerned by the passage of time.

The other movements are, I suppose, not so shocking, but great in their way, and then it's onto the sonatas D. 575 and D. 840. The final two movements of the latter are incomplete. Most pianists ignore them, a few use a completed edition. Richter, though, goes his own way, which is in a sense is also Schubert's: he plays what the composer wrote, and when the notes suddenly stop, he does too. So the tonally uncertain minuet ends uncertainly, and the rondo spins off into nothingness. The normal course of time is again challenged - by erecting a wall in its path.

1 comment:

  1. weird, i was just talking about schubert, like 5 minutes ago...