These program notes are meant to give people new to this piece a "way in" to Schubert's world. This piece is in 4 movements.
Some excerpts I like from Stephen Hough's program notes:
SCHUBERT, in his late piano sonatas, is revealed more as a listener than a speaker...
Here there is neither the superficial gloss of refinement nor the mawkish self-consciousness of profundity; rather Schubert's miraculous ability to bare his soul without a trace of narcissism - a combined result of his humility, universality, and an exquisite unawareness of either.
"Art is waiting: inspiration is waiting. Humility is a certain relation of the soul to time. It is an acceptance of waiting." – Simone Weil
A pure, lyrical melody, marked by a low rumbling trill at the end, and silence. These three elements - beauty, darkness, and silence - and their interplay are the foundation for the entire sonata's philosophy.
Follow the mood shifts, sometimes subtle, sometimes abrupt. Now in the distant key of F# minor, a cello in a string quartet begins a melody. Is this the song of Schubert baring his soul, or is there some of all of us in it?
A lighter motive that dances, then disintegrates as it runs out of steam. These themes, once familiar, will become transformed later on.
This theme begins as a distant idea. Listen to it spin and weave until it's finally spoken out loud. This sonata was Schubert's last, and many consider it his farewell.
The calm breaks off into a dark, rumbling trill in the bass. What does this evoke for you?
This is not so much a theme proper, but more of a transitory wandering in search of something more stable, unsettled between major and minor tonalities. Follow as it rises and falls over and over. What could this music be contemplating?
Finally, we come to a joyful arrival. Follow it as it transforms and unravels. What could this represent?
Our opening theme returns in the foreign key of c-sharp minor. Then, the dance enters, but the bass line takes over and Schubert tells us a story:
We finally return home to the original themes, but home never feels quite as we remembered it when returning from a journey.
Hough writes, "The pen has to be set down on the desk, the body rested against the back of a chair, and a listener's whole being surrendered to another sphere."
Rather than setting the music to words, focus on the sound itself and the feelings it engenders, which transcend language.
The movement draws haltingly to a close with only fragments of its beautiful theme separated with silence, struggling to hold together.
Brendel said, Schubert "lets himself be transported, just a hair’s breadth from the abyss, not so much mastering life as being at its mercy."
The right-hand melody is by turns lamenting and reaching. Meanwhile, the left-hand accompaniment plays a hypnotic rising pattern, providing forward direction "like rowing a boat," as Fleisher wrote.
The music opens up to a chorale in A Major with a persistent bass accompaniment. How do you see this music?
Silence gives way to the return of the original melody with a more insistent accompaniment, whose darkness is reminiscent of the opening trill.
Words cannot do justice to the heart-stopping harmonic changes in this movement's closing, and the experience upon reaching the reluctant acceptance of its conclusion.
"Scherzo" literally means "joke", but composers often apply it to music both light and dark. How would you describe this music?
In the middle section, Schubert is still dancing, but he peels back the surface to give a glimpse of another layer underneath.
Schubert packs so much nuance in this short scene. Can you hear some of these?
The final movement, cast in sonata-rondo form, opens with a ringing open octave G. For whom does this bell toll? Artur Schnabel put words to the melody that follows: “Ich weiss nicht, ob ich lache, ich weiss nicht, ob ich weine.” I know not if I'm laughing, I know not if I'm crying.
In this syncopated dance, a relaxed, major-key melody arises, but it lapses from time to time into ambiguous emotional territory. Do you see this expression as
Interruption, silence, and a storm, which eventually skips back to the first theme. This story is
Or are these all just the same story?
The bell tolls to signal the return of the main theme. It is heard abridged before it goes for a ride, seemingly in conflict with itself.
As the bell rings and the themes are heard again, we ask if these are all different stories or just different sides of a larger one.
Pianist Jörg Demus said, "[Schubert's piano melodies] wander along with gentle corpulence – likenesses of their creator – through the musical keys as through countrysides, changing by means of an apparently abrupt harmonic inflection, appearing suddenly in another light and assuming a new countenance from one measure to another.”
At the close, the bell returns, slowly falling with uncertainty - and then, again, silence - before Schubert shakes it off to conclude the work.