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Schubert’s Last Year II

Immersive Experiences
Tuesday, July 16, 2024 at 7pm Donovan Pavilion

McDermott, Brey, Morales, Phillips, and the Dalí Quartet close Immersive Experiences with Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen for Soprano, Clarinet and Piano; Piano Sonata in B- flat major; and Cello Quintet in C major.

Did you know?

“The art of music here interred a rich possession / But still far fairer hopes.” So reads the inscription on Schubert’s grave, softened only slightly by appreciation of the vast catalogue of music he did complete in his 31 years.

Featured Artists

Susanna Phillips


Ricardo Morales


Carter Brey


Anne-Marie McDermott


Dalí Quartet

Program Details

  • Susanna Phillips, soprano 
  • Ricardo Morales, clarinet
  • Anne-Marie McDermott, piano 
  • Dalí Quartet 
    • Ari Isaacman-Beck, violin
    • Carlos Rubio, violin
    • Adriana Linares, viola
    • Jesús Morales, cello
  • Carter Brey, cello 

SCHUBERT Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock) for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano

SCHUBERT Piano Sonata in B-flat major 

SCHUBERT Cello Quintet in C Major


Program Notes

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock), for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano, D. 965

(12 minutes)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock), for Soprano, Clarinet, and Piano, D. 965 

Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960

(40 minutes)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Piano Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960
     Molto moderato
     Andante sostenuto
     Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza
     Allegro ma non troppo


(18 minutes)

String Quintet in C major, D. 956

(45 minutes)

FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

String Quintet in C major, D. 956
     Allegro ma non troppo
     Scherzo: Presto—Trio: Andante sostenuto

It is arguable,” wrote Benjamin Britten in 1964, “that the richest and most productive eighteen months in our musical history is the time when Beethoven had just died, when the other nineteenth-century giants, Wagner, Verdi, and Brahms had not begun; I mean the period in which Franz Schubert wrote his Winterreise, the C-major Symphony, his last three piano sonatas, the C-major Quintet, as well as a dozen other glorious pieces. The very creation of these works in that space of time seems hardly credible; but the standard of inspiration, of magic, is miraculous and past all explanation.”

Of the more than six hundred lieder penned by Schubert, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (The Shepherd on the Rock) was the last. In fact, it was the last piece Schubert completed in any genre, composed in October 1828, a month before he died. He wrote it expressly for Anna Milder-Hauptmann, who had created the title role of Beethoven’s opera Leonore (in 1805) and its successor version, Fidelio (in 1814). She repeatedly asked Schubert to write a Goethe setting for her to introduce, but instead she got this song, to a text he cobbled together from two disparate poems, “Der Berghirt” by Wilhelm Müller (the poet of his song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise) and “Liebesgedanken” by Helmina von Chézy (for whose play Rosamunde he had composed incidental music). The lied with obbligato instrument is a distinct but singularly appealing musical subgenre, the love-child of chamber music and art song. Schubert wrote only two, “Auf dem Strom” (heard yesterday) and “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen,” and they feature the two instruments most in tune with the sound-world that colored the Germanic Romantic movement, the horn and the clarinet. This final song is an anthem to Romantic sensibilities, evoking such central concerns as singing in nature (yodeling, even), the vastness of the picturesque landscape (replete with towering rock, distant vale, and echoing chasm), lovers desolate in their separation, and images of forest, night, springtime, and wandering.

It came on the heels of his Piano Sonata in B-flat major (D. 960), which he completed on September 26. As Britten noted, it is one of three piano sonatas that date from Schubert’s last year. It was preceded during that same month by those in C minor and A major, and the fact that Schubert marked “Sonata III” on the manuscript of his last clarified that he was thinking of them as a triptych. (We might add to Britten’s roster further essential keyboard works from Schubert’s last year: his Four Impromptus, D. 935, and his F-minor Fantasie for piano four-hands.) Many of the characteristics we cherish most in Schubert coincide in this work. It is at once monumental and lyrical, and it seems to have arrived at greater peace overall than its emotionally conflicted predecessors. It is entirely unhurried, beginning almost hesitatingly, as if Schubert were humming to himself offhandedly; but its emotional climate darkens quickly when a subterranean rumble interrupts the opening phrase, suggesting that happiness will not continue unimpeded. The rumble takes the form of a pianissimo trill in the bass, a shivering on the note G-flat. That pitch belongs to the key of B-flat minor rather than the sonata’s overall key of B-flat major. It reappears almost obsessively, injecting ominous moments and expanding the tonic key to embrace both the major and minor modes—a Schubertian fingerprint, a mixture of sunlight and shadows.

The broadening of the tonic key similarly adds to the emotional intensity of the String Quintet for two violins, viola, and two cellos—the composer’s only piece for these forces (his beloved Trout Quintet employing a differently constituted ensemble of five players). A word about Schubert’s mastery of musical texture. The piece begins in apparent simplicity with a C-major  chord swelling from piano to forte, at which point it is transformed into an ambiguous and ominous diminished-seventh chord and then recedes back to piano before proceeding on and coming to rest on a G-major chord, the dominant, eerily high-pitched. That is imaginative in its own right, but what is most striking, perhaps, is that in these opening measures Schubert employs only one of his two cellos; his quintet begins as a standard string quartet. Then, in the eleventh measure, he responds with a second phrase that mirrors the first, but moved into the depths of the ensemble, with the first violin sitting it out while the second violin (playing on its lowest string), viola, and the two cellos make a sound that contrasts starkly with the opening. A pianissimo figure is then batted back and forth for a couple of measures between two instrumental units: viola and two cellos on one hand, viola and two violins on the other—with the viola’s double duty tricking the listener into imaging that a string sextet is at work. And so it goes in this subtle masterpiece of chamber music.

The second movement is the soul of this piece. Words fall short in suggesting the “time-stands-still” sublimity of this Adagio. The pianist Arthur Rubinstein, the cellist Alfredo Piatti, and the novelist Thomas Mann all expressed the desire that they might die while listening to this movement. Some in today’s audience may be similarly inclined—but just not quite yet, please.