Franz Schubert – piano works

Posted on May 28, 2013


Schubert started to study music around the age of 7-8 years after he was selected by Antonio Salieri to sing as choirboy for the Court Chapel Choir in Vienna. Although he also started to play instruments, like violin and piano, as well as studied composition, he was from an early age accustomed to sweet melodies sung by the human voice. This fact has left a lifelong mark on his musical development. Not only he became one of the greatest masters of song-writing of all times, but his instrumental works have been pervaded with an inherent song-like character. This is true for his orchestral as well as for his solo piano pieces.

Schubert’s works for piano include fantasies, sonatas, dances and short solo pieces. Some of them became instant favourites of the Viennese musical life, such as the Moments Musicaux (D789, op. 94) and the Impromptus (e.g. D899, op.90 as well as D935, op.142). His Fantasy in C Major D760 (Wanderer Fantasy) became one of the trademarks of Romantic music due to its innovative character and ingenious construction supporting high dramatic tension throughout the piece.  The Wanderer Fantasy inspired other great romantic composers, such as Liszt, Wagner and Richard Strauss.

Schubert Impromptu no. 2 op. 142 played by Anna Drubich

Schubert produced piano “tone painting” for his songs, which bear equal emotional power with the words. They are not mere accompaniments, but thoroughly composed musical pearls, powerfully representing the psychological and external milieu of the song’s dramatic action. His dances and short solo piano pieces were much cherished by Schubert’s contemporaries and became part of the German Hausmusic movement. They also served as drafts and thematic collections further expanded in his orchestral, chamber and larger scale solo works.

Surprisingly, Schubert’s piano sonatas, some of his most beautiful and ingenious compositions, were almost completely neglected until the early-middle years of the twentieth century. Even thereafter, it was only in the last few decades when their real originality and importance has been discovered, ensuring them a place in the modern concert repertoire. Between 1815 and September 1828 he composed about twenty sonatas (the exact number of them is still a matter of philological debate), and they truly reflect the development of Schubert’s musical style, culminating in the three most mature compositions of his pianistic output , the Sonata in C Minor (D958), the Sonata in A Major (D959) and the Sonata in B-flat Major (D960).  Characteristic to his prodigiously rapid pace of composing, all three of them were autographed in the month of September 1828, shortly before his death (although it seems that most of their musical material was conceived through several years).

Schubert – Sonata in A major, D. 959 played by Christian Zacharias

Personally I find that Schubert’s music can give something very special to me. If I try to put it in words, that would be an incredible sense of warmth, intimacy and serenity. Maybe because of their resemblance to songs or because of their inspiration from nature, his piano pieces sound so simple and clear, that they almost instantly dissolve any sort of tension and stress. Once it achieved this effect of instant tranquillisation, the music can build up any kind of emotions in the listener already rendered vulnerable, ranging from joy, playfulness, passionate exaltation to eerie, mysterious and dark melancholy.



Todd, L. (eds) (2004) Nineteenth-century piano music. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Gibbs, C. H. (2000) The life of Schubert. Cambridge University Press

Wikipedia (2013) Franz Schubert [online] Wikipedia website. Available from: [Accessed 26th May  2012]

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