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#597390 - 04/09/06 07:16 PM I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
John Citron Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
Yesterday I was doing a bit of planning and sight reading to find new stuff to tackle. I've been thinking about a Schubert Sonata after all the discussions about them over the past few weeks. At this point I haven't come up with anything in particular, but I've been leaning to either one of his A minors or perhaps the E-flat.

Well anyway, I think I've figured out why they are so difficult. These aren't sonatas at all, in the piano sonata sense, but are really more like his piano trios or string quartets. They're thicker and meatier because there's more stuff happening in them than a sonata by Beethoven or Haydn.

Instead of Schubert using a single theme or maybe two themes at the most in a movement, he finds other sub-themes that come up all over the place, and are punctuated through out the movements. Take the Finale to his Op.Post. in B-flat. There are at least three themes running through out the movement. When he reaches the last page, he winds them up, punctuates everything with a few chords, and then breaks out into a Presto to finish off the movement very much like one of his string quartets.

So as I've said before, there's a lot more to Schubert's work than what we see on the surface. This is why they are so difficult to play. He's a lot more complicated than we give him credit for, and should stand shoulder to shoulder with Beethoven not behind him as a shadow.

John
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#597391 - 04/09/06 08:06 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19105
Loc: New York City
I don't see how the number of themes makes a difference in difficulty. Using that same reasoning, playing the 4 Chopin Scherzi(or even just one) would be even more difficult because of the number of themes. Or think of the number of themes in one of Schumann's extended works. Also, just because there is a coda to the last movement of the B flat Sonata doesn't make it different from many Beethoven sonata movements.

I think the difficulty of some Schubert Sonatas is more related to their length and musical profundity.

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#597392 - 04/09/06 08:18 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
John Citron Offline
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Registered: 07/15/05
Posts: 3925
Loc: Haverhill, Massachusetts
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
I don't see how the number of themes makes a difference in difficulty. Using that same reasoning, playing the 4 Chopin Scherzi(or even just one) would be even more difficult because of the number of themes. Or think of the number of themes in one of Schumann's extended works. Also, just because there is a coda to the last movement of the B flat Sonata doesn't make it different from many Beethoven sonata movements.

I think the difficulty of some Schubert Sonatas is more related to their length and musical profundity. [/b]
As I said there's a lot more happening here than in a normal sonata. The length? Yes they are long, and so are the sonatas by many of the Romantic composers. The coda in the B-flat is a lot different, to me anyway, to what Beethoven has written. This again, like the rest of Schubert's sonatas, and I was using this as an example, and probably and poor one at that, lends its self style-wise to a string trio or quartet, and less to the piano. Schubert was ahead of his time, and was thinking outside the box when it came to the piano sonata.

The themes in the Chopin Scherzi are different. The Scherzi are consise works, and each theme takes its place in a section. Think ABA with sub-sections. Overall Chopin liked the ABA format, and used that for many of his works. With Schubert's piano sonatas, he tends to weave the themes in between each other - more string quartet like. This takes a lot more planning and consideration than many other sonatas that have come before these. With the sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven, once one gets the hang of them, s/he can coast along through them. Schubert is not like that in any case. For him each work is a journey unto its self.

John
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#597393 - 04/09/06 08:26 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
signa Offline
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Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA

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#597394 - 04/09/06 08:28 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA
actually, as i read, Schubert's music is difficult to play because he used a lot unpianistic figurations in his compositions, which are different from those written by Beethoven, Bach or anyone who themselve are both great as composer and pianist. so, in order to play Schubert you just have to get used to such figurations first.

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#597395 - 04/09/06 08:43 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
Johnny-Boy Offline
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Registered: 01/21/06
Posts: 661
Loc: PA
From my experience, I find the Beethoven Sonatas to be the most difficult sonatas ever composed.

Best, John
_________________________
Stop analyzing; just compose the damn thing!

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#597396 - 04/10/06 12:51 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I don't know what I'm going to write, but I always weigh in on matters Schubert.

I always wanted to be a fine singer more than I wanted to be a fine pianist, and from a singer's point of view, Schubert is by far a greater composer than Beethoven.

Now I know that it will not come to pass that pianists will ever concede that the idea of "song" should stand side by side with the idea of "sonata.” I'll concede further that I'm in the minority: that the usual audience for classical music regards the idea of "song" as a lesser idea than that of "sonata." But I don’t concede the idea.

If we must always compare Schubert to Beethoven—and I do this as much as anyone—perhaps thinking of them in terms of the formless “song,” and “Sonata Allegro form,” is a fair way of getting a handle on the comparison.

Somewhere in the compositions of Haydn, Mozart and/or Beethoven--I won’t try to pinpoint exactly where--the classical music world believes that the sonata allegro form reached a pinnacle—a kind of platonic ideal. The form was defined by movements in contrasting tempos, certain key relationships, a scherzo in a triple meter, codas, recaps, and so on. This form is seen by many in our generation as being close to perfect.

Yet no sooner was this perfect form developed than all sorts of iconoclasts came along and violated the form, and in this day, the idea of “sonata” has come to mean very little. Modern composers will attach the term to just about anything: compositions of one movement or six or a dozen, compositions with little regard for contrasting tempos or tonal relationships; compositions written in dodecaphonic modes with no perceptible tonal relationships at all. Just this last week I heard a "sonata" by a local composer, and as I heard the form, it was ABACADAE and so on. Hardly a sonata that Beethoven would have named as such.

The gentle Schubert was one of the first of these iconoclasts. I don’t think he considered himself to be an iconoclast. To be an iconoclast was not in his nature. There was no one he admired more than Beethoven.

But iconoclast he was. Oh, he tried to be good. He seemed to try with everything he had to obey the commandments of the form.

And this is where the confusion seems to set in: the Zeitgeist had changed, and it just wasn’t in him. I realize Schubert was contemporary with Beethoven, but he was of a later generation. The intrusian of the “self” was beginning to be a defining characteristic of the romantic movement, and was trumping the idea of “form.” Secondly, the particular “self” Schubert embodied was different than Beethoven’s. He was by nature more impetuous, more lyrical, more poetic, more impatient, more spontaneous—and yes, I concede, sometimes, oftentimes, more careless.

So I think in comparing the two, we ought to allow that eventhough Schubert was a contemporary of Beethoven, he was of a different generation. Dare I say that he took music beyond Beethove? I expect some sticks and stones in my direction on this, but, yes, I do dare. To push back a bit, do I dare further say that music has advanced after Beethoven? Surely, we all must agree, music has advanced in some sense since Beethoven.

So why should we slight Schubert of his inch?

In rereading what I have written, I see that up towards the top of the script I started to talk about “song” and “sonata allegro” form, and that this might be a good way to get a handle on an instructive comparison of Schubert and Beethoven.

Hmm. Let’s see if I can make anything out of that.

Sonata form is a pre-existing musical form, and Beethoven was a master at exploiting the possibilities within it. Song is a poetic form. It follows the form of the poetry. Schubert was a master at finding a way to drop the third into the relative minor on just the right word, and just tear at your heart. Schubert, to me, was at his best as a composer of program music: and a composer of emotions specific to the individual. He seems pre-Freudian to me. He deals inside our minds: with psychosis, with depression, with the anxieties within the individual mind.

Beethoven deals not so much with internal individual trauma, but with large scale social trauma and movements: with armies storming across Europe, the Eroica; with political freedom and social repression, Fidelio; with proclaiming the right to happiness, the 9th symphony.

Anyway, it’s late. I’m gonna go to bed. And I know I haven’t followed through on my comparison of “Sonata Alllegro”/”song,” as applied to Beethoven and Schubert. Next time. Vieleicht.

Wiedersehn, later, toodles . . .
Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#597397 - 04/10/06 04:18 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
May be I schold start a new thread for this:

Signa mentioned the "unpianistic figurations" Schubert tends to use.

How would you define unpianistic figurations?

I think unpianistic figurations are frequent when e.g. choir leaders make piano arrangement of X-mas carols or traditional melodies. Although their tempo is not fast, they are sometimes very unconfortable to play in a proper way - legato available only with the help of the sustain pedal.

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#597398 - 04/10/06 09:07 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
No Jan-Erik, I don't think a new thread need be started here. "Unpianistic figurations" are a common complaint against Schubert, and not without merit.

Schubert at times just doesn't seem to "fit the hand," or "fall under the hand," as well as does, say, Mozart.

Trying to pinpoint the difficulty, though, I find it is not so much in the accompaniment, or melodic figures, but at points of transition from one section to another. For the last eight or nine months, I've been working on Schubert #959. In the last movement, measure 17, the second ending, and not counting repeats, I find the descending parallel thirds just a bit difficult, and somehow not quite idiomatic to the piano. Going on to measure 32, I find the last beat in the left hand, d to c# to the a octave on the downbeat, similarly unidiomatic.

These are small things, and just a little bit of spot practicing got me over them, but still, everytime I play them, they feel just a little awkward.

"I think unpianistic figurations are frequent when e.g. choir leaders make piano arrangement of X-mas carols or traditional melodies." Yes, I've had this experience too.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#597399 - 04/10/06 03:15 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
lol_nl Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/21/06
Posts: 918
Loc: Ede, Netherlands
I think what makes Schubert so difficult are a few things... the already mentioned "unpianistic figurations", the running voices, but I think another reason has to do with the fact that he writes very length pieces in which the theme continues and continues.. there seems to be no end... and again the same themes (at least, he often has a A theme, then B, then C or again A, etc. but each theme is repeated very often). This makes it hard to keep the audience listening when you have e.g. a few minutes the chords of the beginning of his G major Sonata for example ("Fantasy", D. 894?)
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"Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is never enough for music."
-Sergei Rachmaninoff.

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#597400 - 04/10/06 10:47 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
BZ4 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/07/05
Posts: 202
Loc: Orange County
I personally don't have an issue with "unpianistic figurations" in regards to Schubert. I was playing the rondo of the big A major sonata yesterday, and I found it to be very comfortable with my hands and fingers. The same with the 2nd Impromptu in Eb. Surprisingly, sometimes I feel Chopin to be sometimes awkard, especially with the Etudes and some passages in the Ballades. Of course with the Etudes he was trying to make a point with various piano obstacles so that is understandable. But, for the most part I don't feel Schubert to be that unpianistic, any more so than Beethoven.
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#597401 - 04/11/06 01:23 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA
i read also that Schubert wasn't that great pianist himself (even though he could play) and didn't even own a piano. so, i guess this partially contributed to his writing something he couldn't even play himself.

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#597402 - 04/11/06 02:48 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
kwoksmusic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/12/05
Posts: 169
Loc: California
I tend to agree with John that when there are multiple themes, and sub-themes, it does make the playing more difficult - its not the fingers, it's what happens in the mind - thinking several independant ideas at the same time, and giving each its shapes, and its character, does require more complex thinking.

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#597403 - 04/11/06 03:06 AM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
Jan-Erik Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/18/05
Posts: 1302
Loc: Finland
But Schubert's impromptus, at least the ones in E flat and A flat major/minor??? are very pianistical.

I have also acoompanied the song "Ständchen" and that part was very agreeable.

If you are not good at the piano yourself, but compose for the piano(no mechanical transponing from a choir score), when sitting at the keyboard, how can the result be difficult to play? Don'the composers normally play the result himself?

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#597404 - 04/11/06 12:56 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
signa Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/04
Posts: 8482
Loc: Ohio, USA
but i did read that when Schubert was trying to play his composition 'wander...', and he gave up in the middle of it and complained himself about the difficulty of that piece.

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#597405 - 04/11/06 05:01 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
tomasino Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/24/05
Posts: 2039
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota
I don't believe Schubert was regarded as a great virtuoso of his time, but I think he must have been a pretty fair pianist. I have never heard the above story about the wanderer fantasy before, but I did recently read in a bio that he found the triplets of Der Erlkoenig too difficult for him.

Tomasino
_________________________
"Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do so with all thy might." Ecclesiastes 9:10


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#597406 - 04/11/06 05:17 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
AJB Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/05
Posts: 3655
Loc: Surrey, England
Intersting and informative thread John. I learned a lot from this.

I have only ever worked on one Schubert piece as I am fairly ignorant of his work. I have spent some time on the Fantasie C major - and struggled with getting it to sound anything other than rather mechanical and lacking in fluency. And I don't know why! (Other than incompetence of course). My teacher has yet to be exposed to my efforts on this one...

Kind regards

Adrian
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#597407 - 04/11/06 06:03 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19105
Loc: New York City
 Quote:
Originally posted by John Citron:
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
I don't see how the number of themes makes a difference in difficulty. Using that same reasoning, playing the 4 Chopin Scherzi(or even just one) would be even more difficult because of the number of themes. Or think of the number of themes in one of Schumann's extended works. Also, just because there is a coda to the last movement of the B flat Sonata doesn't make it different from many Beethoven sonata movements.

I think the difficulty of some Schubert Sonatas is more related to their length and musical profundity. [/b]
As I said there's a lot more happening here than in a normal sonata. The length? Yes they are long, and so are the sonatas by many of the Romantic composers. The coda in the B-flat is a lot different, to me anyway, to what Beethoven has written. This again, like the rest of Schubert's sonatas, and I was using this as an example, and probably and poor one at that, lends its self style-wise to a string trio or quartet, and less to the piano. Schubert was ahead of his time, and was thinking outside the box when it came to the piano sonata.

The themes in the Chopin Scherzi are different. The Scherzi are consise works, and each theme takes its place in a section. Think ABA with sub-sections. Overall Chopin liked the ABA format, and used that for many of his works. With Schubert's piano sonatas, he tends to weave the themes in between each other - more string quartet like. This takes a lot more planning and consideration than many other sonatas that have come before these. With the sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, and even Beethoven, once one gets the hang of them, s/he can coast along through them. Schubert is not like that in any case. For him each work is a journey unto its self.

John [/b]
I'm afraid I can't agree with almost any of the above:
1.The Chopin Scherzi are not in ABA form.
2.Why would "it take more planning" if the themes are "woven in between" one another?
3.Coasting throught the Beethoven Sonatas? They have proved challenging for the greatest pianists in history.
4. Why mention Romantic Sonatas when the post is about Beethoven(or classical)Sonatas vs. Schubert Sonatas?
5. "Coda in the B flat is a lot different from the codas in Beethoven"? Harder than the codas in Op. 57 or the Waldstein??

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#597408 - 04/12/06 09:26 PM Re: I think I figured out why Schubert's Sonatas are so difficult.
kwoksmusic Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/12/05
Posts: 169
Loc: California
4. Why mention Romantic Sonatas when the post is about Beethoven(or classical)Sonatas vs. Schubert Sonatas?[/b]

Beethoven's music has been classified as both Classical (earlier works), and Romantic (later works). Understandable that he was brought up. But I agree one can't coast through Beethoven's music.

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