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Schubert: Sonata for Piano Four Hands, D. 812 "Grand Duo" 1st Movement Allegero Moderato

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Published on Feb 3, 2012

Schubert Grand Duo 1st Movement. Jonathan Plowright and Aaron Shorr in performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, 27 January 2012.

SCHUBERT: GRAND DUO FOR PIANO DUET, D. 812 Allegro moderato Andante Scherzo Allegro vivace

"In a word, I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who, in sheer despair over this, ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom the felicity of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain...Thus joyless and friendless I should pass my days..."

Schubert penned these words of despair shortly before he began work on the Grand Duo in the spring of 1824. He was already riddled with debilitating illnesses and unable to play the piano. It was at this time that Schubert accepted a standing invitation to tutor Count Esterhazy's two talented daughters. Although isolated and lonely at the Esterhazy estate, the Count's daughters were undoubtedly accomplished pianists and the source of inspiration for many of Schubert's great piano duets as well as the Trout Quintet.

The Grand Duo is the largest work that Schubert composed for this genre. It has been speculated by many, including Schumann, that this was actually an unrealized symphony, although this has now been disproven. Still, the orchestral dimensions and qualities of this work are undeniable and it has led to several transcriptions for orchestra, including a highly regarded version by Joachim. There are frequent references and allusions to Beethoven's symphonies, including Nos. 2 and 5 and 8. The Grand Duo shares the same C Major key as his Ninth Symphony -- "The Great," which followed in 1825.

Although being a work in C Major, the Grand Duo spends very little time in this key. The opening theme of the first movement is replete with major -- minor tonal ambiguity, perhaps reflecting Schubert's fragile state of mind. The second movement recalls Beethoven's Second Symphony as well as the metronome movement from his Eighth. The orchestration of the unbridled third movement is a player's delight. Taken at breakneck speed, it is filled with the joys and dangers of colliding hands, clashing harmonies but also a marvelously veiled and mysterious Trio section. A call to attention, very much like the finale of both the Trout Quintet and the last B Flat Major Piano Sonata, gives way to a dance of the utmost charm and complexity. The highly charged and fascinating contrapuntal development that Schubert employs here looks forward to a similar passage in the finale of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.

Much of Schubert's music found its voice in the intimate salon settings of his friends and admirers. These were the so-called "Schubertiads," a tradition that lasted long after his death. Piano duets were highly popular with the public and central to the explosion of domestic music making associated with this period. (Most symphonic works were often first experienced in their piano duet versions. Symphonic performances were still relatively infrequent outside of the main European cities.) Publishers were keen to exploit this market and Schubert complied with copious celebratory dances, marches, polonaises and variations. With the Grand Duo, however, Schubert pushed the medium to new heights, taking it out of the realm of domestic music making and pointing the way forward for "Romantic" symphonists, such as Mendelssohn and Schumann.

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