Schubert’s sonata in A minor, D845, op 42 was published in 1825 as “Premiere Grande Sonata”. It is a mammoth work that evokes every human emotion from the heights of joy to the depths of despair. This juxtaposition of emotions is extremely common in the works of Schubert who had a life of mixed fortunes.
Schubert wrote 11 “completed” sonatas and a further 10 “incomplete”. Of these 21 sonatas, this sonata in A minor is number 16. The D in D845 stands for Deutsch, (Otto Enrich Deutsch) who listed Schubert’s works chronologically.
1825 was a year of relative good fortune for Schubert, when many of his financial troubles were temporarily eased. Although Schubert was infected with syphilis, at this stage his health was better than it had been for some time, and with that brought a renewed sense of energy. A large and varied amount of Schubert’s music was published in this same year by no less than four different publishers. It was in this same year, 1825, that Schubert commenced work on his symphony in C major, the “Great C major” and his piano sonata D850.
D845 is the first four movement sonata Schubert had written since 1817.
The first movement (Moderato) opens with a quiet figure in unison octaves followed by a more insistent chordal section. This initial theme is used throughout the first movement and introduced in many different keys and textures. The musical drive is found in the flowing quaver passages which are intertwined throughout the first movement with the initial theme. Schubert uses the full span of his keyboard and his economic use of the keyboard range is highly evident. The movement ends in a dramatic style, powerfully and insistent in nature. The scale of the first movement was significantly broader than Schubert’s previous sonatas, this pointing the way towards his late sonatas.
The second movement (Andante poco moto) is in the form of a theme and set of variations. Schubert’s style of varying the theme is such that the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic shape of the initial theme is followed closely and the embellishments are never so great as to distract from the importance of the underlying thematic content. “..the simplicity and freshness of Hayden combined with a warmth and tenderness which were Schubert’s own”(Gerald Abraham). Very often people refer to Mozart and Beethoven as the father and son, and Schubert as the Holy Spirit; justification for this can be found throughout this second movement and in particular the ending which is simply divine. Schubert incidentally was not a fan of Beethoven, and his sonatas were constantly criticised for failing to live up to those of Beethoven.
The third movement is a scherzo and trio. This scherzo (allegro vivace) is full of energy and more intense and dramatic than the previous scherzos explored in some of Shubert’s earlier sonatas. In a complete contrast however the trio (un poco piu lento) is a graceful and delicate dance.
The 4th movement (Rondo, Allegro vivace), is almost monothematic with constant flowing quavers which are rarely interrupted, except by a series of minim chords, reminiscent of moments in the C major symphony of 1828. As with the first movement the dramatic ending is made even more so by full use of the keyboard range, bars of rest and subito dynamics. It marks the end of a monumental journey from beginning to the end of this sonata.
Schubert’s D842 “Totengabers Heimwehe” (Gravediggers Longing) shares thematic material with the D845 sonata. The initial unison theme at the beginning of the sonata is used in the song accompanied by the words “Abandoned by all, cousin only to death, I wait at the brink, starring longingly into the grave”.