Sonata in B-flat major, D960

“You know quite well, deep within you, that there is only a single magic, single power, a single salvation… and that is called loving. Well, then, love your suffering. Do not resist it, do not flee from it. It is your aversion that hurts, nothing else.”
- Hermann Hesse

Vienna. 1828. The last year of Franz Schubert’s life. A terrible disease has been killing his body presumably since 1822. Nevertheless, his spirit drives him to complete a long line of masterpieces which make up one of the most marvellous creative periods not only in his life, but in all of music history. Works like the colossal Winterreise (Winter journey), a song cycle with words by Müller, the Mass in E-flat, the String Quintet in C major, and the collection of songs with words by Rellstab and Heine -published posthumously under the name of Schwanengesang (Swan-song), are from these last two years. Alongside these, in 1828 Schubert writes three piano sonatas: in C minor, A major and B-flat major, a monumental triptych finished and composed mainly in September of 1828, just two months before his death on November 19. The last one is the work presented in this concert.

The music from the last two years of his life reveals a composer increasingly meditating on the darker side of the human psyche and human relationships, and with a deeper sense of spiritual awareness and conception of the 'beyond'.

Schubert composed his three last sonatas in close succession, probably intending to publish them together as a set, in which the three pieces would complement each other in their different characters. They contain a complex network of inner harmonic and motivic connections linking all movements. Time and time again, we see how uniquely Schubert handles Sonata form. In place of Beethoven’s concise prose, Schubert adopts a style more akin to free soliloquy: time takes on a new dimension, keys blend into one another. The formal structure is opened out and extended, giving the music a landscape-like quality. The consummate beauty of the melodies almost makes them unsuitable to any thematic working-out. Rather, the music is built on a series of dreamy impulses, and a lyricism hitherto undiscovered is achieved.

The first movement of the last of the three sonatas, the Sonata in B flat major, marked Molto moderato, transports us to another sphere of existence. Its dreamy lyricism and its meditative inward-looking have no trace of narcissism, just pure humanity, humbleness, and a universality exquisitely unaware of itself. The second movement, an Andante sostenuto in C sharp minor, gives voice to a desolate pessimism, a meditative, painful sweetness. The motionless atmosphere created in the first part contrasts with a middle section of intimate purity. The absence of a narrative progression together with the gloomy atmosphere throughout the piece suggest the Wanderer’s contemplation of the landscape of Death. After this movement, the Scherzo, marked Allegro vivace e con delicatezza, feels as something from an unreal world, something that talks about the fragility of emotion or maybe of a lost innocence, and acts as an interlude between the desolation of the Andante sostenuto and the ambiguous mood of the finale. This is a light rondo based on three themes. It is a restless piece that shows the extraordinary subtlety of major/minor nuance, and the alternation between an apparent onward impulse and sadly tender lyricism, between impulses of song and a subtly troubled agitation.

Javier Arrebola © kohoBeat 2008