Alasdair Beatson Piano
Royal Northern Sinfonia
A performance of Schubert’s Trout Quintet in a supportive and relaxed environment suited to those with dementia and their families/carers.
This happy and uplifting music reflects the mood of 22-year-old Franz Schubert after leaving the bustling streets of Vienna behind for a summer holiday in Upper Austria’s mountains and meadows. Life seemed full of promise for the young composer in that summer of 1819. His name was at last being recognised in Vienna, his many songs were proving popular – and this break would open his eyes to new, less hectic but inspirational surroundings.
Schubert was soon introduced to Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy amateur cellist who arranged chamber music recitals at his home. Paumgartner seized on the opportunity to invite Schubert to compose something for his five Hummel supporters that would include variations on one of his favourite Schubert lieder, Dei Forelle (‘The Trout’).
Schubert wrote this song in early 1817 for solo voice and piano, setting most of the text of a 1782 poem by a free-spirited German poet and composer, Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart,which relates the desperate struggles of a trout to escape a well-practised angler. Schubart’s final stanza contains what Schubert scholar John Reed calls a ‘smug moral’ that ‘pointedly advises young girls to be on their guard against young men with rods’. Schubert, reeling in his line at the appropriate moment, left that stanza out of his song.
In preparing for this new commission Schubert realised the addition to the ensemble of a double bass, in tandem with the cello, would enable a strong bass line to support the music. This gave Schubert more freedom in his writing for piano, much of which is focused in the instrument’s higher register with both hands of the pianist now at liberty to play the same melodic line an octave apart.
Schubert, who completed the A major quintet back in Vienna that autumn, opted for the four-movement structure of a sonata but added a fifth movement – which he placed fourth – of variations on his celebrated Die Forelle lied. This would make the style of the piece seem more like a divertimento – a suite of light recreational music – if we were to overlook the craftsmanship of its construction.