Schubert’s A minor piano sonata D.845 is in a fairly conventional sonata form though with an inverted sense of development and ambiguity over the beginning of the recapitulation. The structure can be seen to be as follows:
|Structure||Bar Numbers||Tonality||Time code in video|
|Second subject||40-77||C-c-C||1’-1’ 53’’|
|Closing Passage||77-90||C – (ending on V of A)||1’ 53’’-2’ 13’’|
|Development||91-151||E/e – d-Eb-f-f#||2’ 13’’-3’ 57’’|
|Recapitulation||? (see discussion)-247||(f#-a-c) c-A-a||?-6’ 23’’|
|Coda||249-311||a-F-a||6’ 23’’-8’ 07’’|
The development is traditionally where tension heightens in sonata form, reaching its climax for the ultimate release at the start of the recapitulation. However, Schubert inverts both of these notions; both the first half of the development (bars 91-119, from 2’14” in the recording above) is particularly introverted and static, and the beginning of the recapitulation is highly ambiguous. Focusing on the development, Schubert seems to be alluding to a folk topic here: bars 91-104 sound modal with the lack of third throughout the passage until the closing cadence; and the ppp section in bars 105-119 (2′ 37”) sound particularly folk-like, with the D and Eb drone creating a harmonic simplicity allowing for melodic, a simple version of arabesque-like, development.
This introverted lyricism links to Carl Dahlhaus’s idea that Schubert focused on the ‘lyric-epic’, compared to Beethoven’s emphasis on the ‘dramatic-dialectic’. He notes the difference between the ‘logical’ element of motivic-thematic derivation, and the ‘pathetic’ one of a development pressing constantly forwards. Whilst Dahlhaus believes this to be inseparable in Beethoven, this is not so with Schubert, who shows that musical logic is reconcilable with a relaxed pace. Schubert’s music is therefore not necessarily teleological, and the first half of the development is a perfect example of Dahlhaus’s idea; whilst there is a very strong ‘logical’ element of motivic and thematic importance, there is a void of the ‘pathetic’ here. There is a sense of timelessness in this folk trope, tending towards the boundless, as Dahlhaus says. However, the second half of the development presents a stark contrast with the first: from bars 120-144 (3′ in the recording above), Schubert enters a purely Beethovenian world that is not only teleological and typical of a Beethovenian treatment of texture and fragmentation, but also, and even more specifically, creates a direct allusion to Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata in F minor, the same key as this section.
Exactly where the development ends and the recapitulation begins is hard to determine. Bar 145 (3′ 45”) can be seen as a false recapitulation, bringing back the opening material, though in F# minor rather than in the tonic. Between bars 145 and 163 (see below, from 3’44 in the video) there is a series of tertiary modulations from F# minor, through A minor, to C minor, achieved using auxiliary diminished 7ths and French 6ths. Thus, whilst it could be said that the recapitulation begins in bar 151 with the presentation of the opening material in A minor, this is actually part of a modulation aiming for C minor rather than the tonic: the tonic is treated as the process rather than the goal – becoming rather than being.
Schubert continues his use of enharmonics, this time to cloud the meaning of the leading note. From bars 159-170 there as a constant emphasis on Ab, which is the same pitch as G#, the leading note of A, but with the wrong meaning.
Although this section is in C minor, this emphasis on Ab creates a constant allusion to A minor, which is finally reached in bar 186. This is the point at which the recapitulation is the same as the exposition. The C minor section could therefore almost be seen to function as an extended dominant prolongation towards the tonic in bar 186, in which case, the recapitulation proper can potentially be seen to start here. However, what is crucial is not determining the exact bar number at which the recapitulation beings, but rather the process by Schubert creates this ambiguity – motivically, harmonically and tonally – at the point in sonata form which is meant to be the most important release of tension. Whilst the beginning of the development is static and calm, Schubert saves its expected tension for the moment of traditional release, reversing and undermining the very core of sonata form.
Motivic and Tonal Ideas
The first subject introduces two motivic and tonal ideas that are crucial for the rest of the movement. The first, and less important of the two, is the C-D relationship between the first note of the movement (also the first note of the motivic sequence) and the rise of a tone to D in bar 4 for the next part of the sequence. In A minor, the C and D are the thirds of chords i and ii. The C-D motif not only forms the basis of the second subject , but this time they are both tonicised; C as the relative major of the tonic and the main key area for the second subject (1′ in the video above), and the quick and brief modulation to D in bar 44 for the beginning of the consequent of the phrase, ending back in C major in bar 51. The second subject is therefore based on the same fundamental motif as the first subject. Furthermore, this second subject is motivically related to the transition (43” in the video above), with the descending octave leap and alteration of chords I and V, adding to the highly motivically unified exposition.
Of more crucial importance for the rest of the movement, is the E-F relationship (outlined in example below) that is also established in the first subject, and Schubert places accents on these notes to highlight their importance.
E-F and F-E motifs continue to permeate the first subject, and its unclosed, interrupted periodic form can be seen as a result of a need to draw out this relationship; indeed, the dominant prolongation in bars 12-15 emphasises the E in the bass, continues as a 6/4 tonic chord bar 16, and resolves to the F in bar 20 with a Neapolitan sixth, leading to V again (E), before the final resolution to A in bar 26. This E-F relationship is played out in the development on two different levels: firstly, in bars 91-98 (the modal beginning of the development at 2′ 13”) there is a direct juxtaposition, alternating between a variation on the first subject starting on E and then F; and secondly, the relationship is then emphasised on a larger scale (starting on this E at the beginning of the development) and moving to F in bar 180. This time the F is tonicised into f minor, reflecting the way in which the C-D relationship was purely harmonic in the first subject, and then tonicised in the second subject. There is a startling moment in bars 236-7 (6′ 03” in the video), where the strong dominant preparation of the E is then turned into an interrupted cadence with the F chord in bar 237, which is tonicised with a series of perfect cadences and another presentation of the opening material in F, in bars 240-246. F is further emphasised in the coda, particularly in bars 264 -270, and the last E-F relationship is heard in bars 281-3, employing the Neapolitan from the first subject. The opening bars therefore provide both the tonal and motivic stimulus for the rest of the movement.
Schubert vs Beethoven
The introverted, static section of the development is strong evidence of Dahlhaus’s idea that Schubert focuses on the lyric-epic, rather than the dramatic-dialectic. Although the second part of the development shows a different, more Beethovenian side to Schubert, this is a small-scale, local teleology rather than extending across the entire movement. This is not to suggest that Schubert does not have a strong tonal and motivic trajectory throughout, but overall he can be seen to be less goal-orientated than Beethoven. This movement appears to be based more on different rotations and presentations of the main theme rather than on development per se. Or, perhaps, looking at it from a different angle, there is a developmental process at the heart of this, but one based on variation rather than fragmentation. The opening subject is presented in different contexts to explore the various sides of its character, most notably in the development section which illuminates the theme’s folk and dramatic side; indeed, Dahlhaus describes Schubert’s variation process as ‘drawing circles around the theme’. Schubert therefore merges sonata and variations, creating a personal form focused internally on enharmonic ambiguity and lyricism. However, as Dahlhaus says – ‘the distance from Beethoven at the same time shows a dependence on him’.