Schubert and the Trout Quintet

Schubert, I feel, would have no sympathy for procrastinators. Before he died at the age of 31 – the age at which Beethoven wrote his first symphony – he wrote over 1000 pieces. More than 600 of those were ‘just’ songs, but they also included major works such as operas and symphonies. A friend of his said he was capable of writing seven songs in a day, with one of those seven being a masterpiece.

The most impressive fact from the Radio 3 programme I learned all of this from (which will sadly be no longer available very soon) was that the presenter, Steven Johnson, calculated the time it took Schubert to write his final three piano sonatas is equal to the time it would take for him to copy them; and these were some of the greatest works in piano music.

The reason I came across this programme was an article in the New York Times suggesting that listening to classical music requires both an ability to appreciate, and equally the patience to sit through, long pieces. I used to play the piano and violin to a reasonable standard (for an amateur), an achievement I would ascribe more to hard work and parental cajoling than any innate talent, and so I would consider myself somewhere in the middle of ladder when it comes to appreciating classical music. Put it this way – I don’t listen to Classic FM, but I don’t listen to Radio 3 either.

I tend to enjoy more melodic or dramatic pieces, a preference that causes my jazz-loving friend Alex much amusement when I ask him for jazz songs that ‘have more of a tune’ to them. This explains why I prefer Schubert’s wonderfully melodic Trout Quintet to his more complex Unfinished Symphony (which I also enjoy a lot). Feeling a little defensive about my apparently unadventurous tastes, I did a search for the Trout Quintet to find some commentary on it, and discovered that Radio 3 had aired a programme dedicated to it less than a week ago.

Schubert wrote the Trout Quintet at the depressingly young age of 22, as a commission from Sylvester Paumgartner, a wealthy music patron and mining engineer; Paumgartner suggested that he incorporate the melody from one of his extremely popular songs at the time, Die Forelle (The Trout), hence its name. If you like the Trout Quintet, it’s well worth listening to Die Forelle, which is quite a catchy tune.

Listen to a stream the fourth movement of the Trout Quintet (probably the most popular, and unsurprisingly my favourite as well).

2 Replies to “Schubert and the Trout Quintet”

  1. Because, I suspect, there are many of us much older than that who have no chance of creating anything so sublime…but have the awareness of that fact. I guess it’s a little bit of envy, plus a great deal of respect. Schubert died at 31, so I guess he burned out writing all that wonderful music. 😦

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