Of the great composers associated with Vienna in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Schubert alone was Viennese by birth. Haydn had been born in Rohrau, a village a few miles from Pressburg, better known as Bratislava, the principal city of Slovakia, but had spent his last years of retirement in the capital, after a career that had passed largely in Eisenstadt and at the great palace of Esterh�z in Hungary. Mozart was a product of provincial Salzburg, and had only escaped from there to spend the last precarious ten years of his life in Vienna, while Beethoven, a native of Sonn, was 22 before he finally settled there.
Franz Schubert's parents, it was true, were not Viennese. His father had left Neudorf, in Moravia, to follow his brother to Vienna to pursue his vocation as a schoolmaster. His mother had come to the city from Silesia. The composer, however, was born in a schoolhouse in the Himmelpfortgrund in 1797, the fourth surviving child of his parents. As a child he learned the piano and the violin and had further lessons in theory, before being accepted at the age of eleven into the Imperial Chapel Choir.
Service as a chorister under Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, from whom he was later to receive instruction in the setting of words, brought with it the privilege of attending the Staatskonvikt. It was at school that Schubert acquired experience in the orchestral repertoire of the time, while at home the family quartet, in which his father played the cello, offered further opportunities. At the same time he w rote music of all kinds, the earliest surviving examples of which come from 1810, his fourteenth year.
By the age of 16 Schubert was presented with a choice. He could have remained at school, with a scholarship, the award being conditional on a concentration on academic subjects at the expense of music. Only one course was possible, and Schubert left school to enter, in 1814, for a one-year course of training as an elementary school teacher, a career on which he embarked, in his father's schoolroom, the following year. During these years Schubert continued to write music, songs in profusion, chamber music, Masses, symphonies, even operas. By 1816 he had given up teaching, at least for the moment, and had gone to live with a friend, Franz von Schober. The following years were to be spent largely in the company of a changing circle of friends, whose loyalty and admiration did much to stimulate his genius, providing at the very least a domestic audience for his songs and chamber music.
It is ironical that only towards the end of Schubert's life were signs apparent of a wider public recognition. He had not been unknown in Vienna, at least as a song composer, but he lacked the resources that rich patrons or official appointments might have provided. 1828 brought the first public concert dedicated to his works, a successful occasion, and at the same time publishers had begun to show greater interest in his music. This promise of material success was cut short by his sudden death in November, 1828, after an illness resulting from the debilitation of a syphilitic infection that had brought intermittent suffering during the last six years of his life and had offered him the ever-present spectre of certain death.
The two works for piano trio, the Piano Trios in E flat and the Nottumo, were probably written late in 1827. It has been suggested that the single movement Adagio, known as the Nottumo, was originally intended as a slow movement for the first Piano Trio, and the dating of the paper used for the surviving autograph of this movement has been used as evidence of the date of composition of the trio to which it has been supposed to belong. The Andante un poco mosso in E flat that forms the present slow movement starts with a gentle theme for the cello, followed by the violin, and the piano in a changed key, leading into further chromatic exploration. There is a Scherzo and contrasting Trio of great charm, and a final movement of amiable brilliance.
The Piano Trio in E flat a work that Schumann found more spirited, masculine and dramatic in tone than the earlier work, for which he expressed a general preference, was first performed at the private party in January 1828 to celebrate the engagement of Schubert's school-friend Josef von Spaun and formed part of the later public concert in March. The first movement starts with an immediate call to our attention and a first subject of dramatic outline is followed by a more lyrical second theme, introduced by the cello, closely followed by the violin. Longer than the movement that had introduced the earlier piano trio, and of greater harmonic complexity, this opening is followed by a C minor slow movement with a melody that Schubert's friend Sonnleithner identified as a Swedish folk-song Se solen sjunker. (The sun is down.) The use of canon in the Scherzo, as violin and cello enter in imitation of the piano, has its precedents, not least in Haydn. The movement includes a Trio of dynamic contrasts. The final Allegro moderato is introduced by the piano with a lilting melody, in a movement that is to include contrasting episodes and even the suggestion of a Turkish element as well as a reminiscence of the folk-song of the slow movement, in a sonata-rondo that moves to a brilliant conclusion.
Stuttgart Piano Trio
Since its foundation in 1968 the Stuttgart Piano Trio has won a considerable reputation for itself. In 1969 the Trio won the Mendelssohn Competition in Berlin and the International Radio Competition in Munich and since then has appeared in many of the leading cities of the world and at major festivals. The violinist Rainer Kussmaul was born in Mannheim in 1952 and trained in Stuttgart, later winning prizes in Montreal, Bucharest and Leipzig. He plays a violin made by Andrea Guarnerius in Cremona in 1692. The cellist Claus Kanngiesser joined the Trio in 1971, after study in Harnburg, where his teachers included Zara Nelsova, and masterclasses with Gaspar Cassado and Pablo Casals. He plays an instrument made in 1841 by Gian Francesco Pressenda. The pianist Monika Leonhard includes among her teachers Michelangeli and Alfred Brendel and completed her studies in Stuttgart in 1969.
ReviewsThose unfamiliar with the extraordinary Naxos label should hear what they've been missing---this Schubert disc is, to my knowledge, the best place to start. For about seven bucks, you can have this absolutely brilliant performance, recorded in equally superb sound. The Stuttgart Piano Trio is technically flawless, occasionally breathtaking. They play with intelligence, joy, and respectful understatement. The tone colors are captured in extraordinary fidelity, and the ambience is entirely realistic, without bloating in the lower ranges. - Stereophile