Q. When is a string quartet not a string quartet?

A. When it’s a song cycle(??) Schönberg’s second quartet breaks boundaries. It starts respectably enough in its home key of f-sharp, and then (within the freedoms of late romantic form and chromatic harmony) proceeds in a fairly orderly quartetish manner until the end of the second movement, the scherzo; it’s then that the real revolution […]

1st Viennese School?

Mugshots of some of the most famous musicians to grace our planet. Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and (sometimes) Schubert are frequently lumped together under the blanket heading of the First Viennese School. But, unlike the Second Viennese School (Schönberg, Berg and Webern – of whom more next week), in the case of these four mostly Vienna […]

Dvořák: Piano Quintet

The combination of piano and string quartet only became really fashionable in the mid-nineteenth century. Before that piano quintets with strings frequently used the combination of piano, violin, viola and double bass (Schubert’s Trout Quintet is a famous example). It was the deserved success of Schumann’s Piano Quintet (1842) that opened the flood gates; the […]

Journey’s end

Our Winter journey together completed, Schubert bids us – and practically everything else – a fond, last farewell: Abschied (Farewell) D.957/7 Farewell! You jolly, you cheerful town, goodbye! My horse paws the ground now with light-hearted hoof, Now receive my final, my parting salute You’ve never seen me downcast before, And it can’t happen now at […]

The hurdy-gurdy man

The end of Wilhelm Müller’s Die Winterreise has a strangeness that never fails to touch and mystify. The image of the ancient, penniless hurdy-gurdy man making his music, unmoved by the passing world, is inexplicably potent – it calls to us. Who is he?  Death? Madness? A salvation of some sort? And then there’s Schubert’s setting: the simple hurdy-gurdy/bagpipe […]