Rondo in A, D. 438 for violin and string quartet
September 23, 2018: Sean Lee, solo violin; Emily Smith, violin; Arnaud Sussman, violin; Matt Lipman, viola; Nick Canellakis, cello
In 1816 Schubert’s great interest in instrumental ensemble music—particularly violin music—probably stemmed from his involvement with the private orchestra that had grown from his family’s string quartet. He played viola in the quartet, though he had long since been recognized as an accomplished violinist and pianist. That year the orchestra took on new life, coinciding with the change of meeting place to the home of conductor Otto Hatwig.
Schubert’s violin works of 1816 included three sonatas—mistakenly published as sonatinas—in D major, A minor, and G minor; the “Concerto” (Conzertstück) in D major for violin and orchestra; and the present Rondo in A major for violin and strings. The latter two works, along with the Adagio and Rondo concertante in F major for piano quartet, show Schubert coming as close as he ever did to writing concertos. All three works give the soloist ample opportunity for display.
Just before beginning his A major Rondo that June, Schubert had been studying Mozart’s G minor String Quintet. It comes as no surprise, then, to find him influenced by Mozart’s finale—a rondo with one of Mozart’s rare slow introductions and a similar five-voice texture with a prominent violin part. Standing as a one-movement work, Schubert’s rondo is necessarily expansive in its proportions, beginning like Mozart’s with a substantial Adagio introduction and containing, as in Schubert’s similar works, sections within sections combined with elements of sonata form. In the rondo’s general design A–B–tutti–A–C–tutti–A–B–tutti, the return of “A–B–tutti” functions as a grand recapitulation. Schubert’s two bubbly, dancelike main themes along with his moments of drama, mercurial key changes, virtuosic violin treatment, and energetic ensemble passages combine to make a wonderfully satisfying whole.
© Jane Vial Jaffe