performed by the Melos Quartet, or below (which I believe is the exact same recording, though uncredited and un-movement-ed)
I’m not sure what to make of this work. I’ve found very little about it online, often referred to as a fragment, and any score I’ve seen omits the andante second movement and moves right onto the minuet, which is in two parts on this recording, but others have referred to the fourth track as a separate movement. It’s perplexing.
But, as we saw with his piano sonatas, incomplete or abandoned or lost or fragmented or whatever, this is apparently a feature of Schubert’s oeuvre to which we will have to accustom ourselves. What we have here is another extremely early Schubert string quartet.
I read somewhere that these earliest pieces he wrote were exercises in composition and/or pieces to be written for the family quartet, his two brothers capable enough on violin and Daddy Schubert playing cello while Li’l Franz took viola.
Unfortunately, I am shamefully unaware with Schubert’s famous, acclaimed late quartets, but we are to get there. Were I intimately familiar with them, I’d likely say that these early works are enlightening for the insight they show into the young composer and his tendencies, the qualities of his work that would later show themselves in full, or something along those lines. But I’m not.
I can only imagine that’s the value of these earliest works, that they give us a glimpse into the mind of a young, celebrated genius. And I’m inclined to believe that it’s more an issue of the spectacular greatness of the late works rather than the insignificance of the early ones that make the latter somewhat neglected.
That and the fact that they’re incomplete. I have a thing about incomplete works, like reading a novel with a few chapters missing. At least with a story, you can do some inferring as to what happened in the missing section, how much ‘time’ (or story) elapsed in the missing portion, but there’s also nothing to tell you how significant that portion is. Is it missing because it’s insignificant? Who knows? It could be critical. Seeing a landscape or a story through a lens with a crack or smudge obscures some portion of the whole, and we don’t know what that is, and that bothers me.
Taking a quick look at this quartet, though, it can’t be much. It’s not a huge work. Our opening movement reminds me a bit of the first (also incomplete) piano sonata that we talked about, chords either in unison or broken, the quartet in unison or broken, and this idea continues throughout the small first movement. There’s a repeat, but I don’t see much in the way of a second subject for a sonata structure. There’s some contrast to the crunchy boldness of the unison parts offered by more delicate question-and-answer passages, and some up-and-down dotted quarters that sound sweeping and lyrical. It’s generally bright and warm, with a cute pizzicato punctuation, a little wink toward the end of the movement, which ends quietly.
The second movement, aside from being terribly repetitive in the beginning, is also in a triple meter, and feels funereal to me but might be some kind of dance, but shows a bit of development in the middle, interesting harmonies, but is generally pretty gloomy.
The minuet begins by quoting the first movement, or at least bring it to mind briefly. This movement is a nice little highlight of the quartet, a mirthful little minuet with a phrase that ends in a 2/4 rhythm. The trio is more polite and subdued but still quite charming.
The other thing stuck in this Melos quartet recording of the second quartet is marked “IIIb. Menuetto. Allegro,” and is not in any of the scores I’ve looked at. There’s no digital booklet with the work to tell me the provenance of this movement or the andante, but this fourth movement/section is the most substantial and interesting of them all so far. It, like everything else, sticks with the triple-meter theme of the entire quartet. It’s the most imaginative, filled-out, expansive of anything in the work, and I’d like to know more about it.
That being said, the overwhelming impression I get is that this work is, not insignificant or a throwaway or anything, but an aside, a homework assignment, a practice session, or to fulfill some perhaps other-than-artistic or aesthetic purpose. I’d certainly be proud of it if I’d written it, at 15 years old or twice that, but we know the composer went on to do much greater things, so it seems people don’t spend too much time here.
The mystery final movement calls Mozart to mind, but it’s particularly perplexing that this piece gets a recording with two removed (or missing) movements. I’d like to know where they came from, what the score looks like, what their relation is to the rest of the work, what’s incomplete about it, but what we have is what we have. Listen and enjoy. I’m looking very forward to what comes later. Stay tuned.