Collage: images of Schenker
Collage: images of Schenker
Schenker Documents Online
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In the opening of Schubert's
Rosamunde String Quartet in A minor,
the first violin plays a long,
winding, and emotion-laden melody.
But the mood is really set even
before his voice appears,
by the gently flowing notes
of the second violin,
and almost ominous pulsating rhythm
of viola and cello.
The choice of tempo is so important.
Too slow, and the music will sag. Too fast,
and it can sound flippant.
The melody itself begins with an
aching melancholy. How can the first
violinist capture this?
Vibrato, the string player's great
asset, will play a large part
in expressing this.
The choice of width and speed
of vibrato is extremely
important. How fast or slow. How wide
or narrow. Of course, the beauty of
it all is that
every violinist will have a different
take on this.
Soon after the melody is underway,
there is a high point--a kind of gasp
in the music--followed by yet another,
that must reinforce the first.
Time for a decision on how to
differentiate the two.
Perhaps that second gasp should be
even more emphatic
than the first, in order to convey the
anguish of this moment.
This is one example of phrasing.
That is, the performer's never-ending
necessity to shape music coherently.
And at one point,
the three lower voices cease playing
briefly, and a string of upward rising
notes played by the first violin leads
into a change from
minor to major key. And with it, a surprise change of mood
from despair to hope, and even the
possibility of happiness.
But in any case,
a remarkable moment in music.
The violinist must somehow get
just the right amount
of suppleness to this transition,
but also capture the surprise--
the sweetness of this heart-stopping
moment. Schubert may have
drawn inspiration for this melody from
two earlier songs of his.
It's not a bad idea for a violinist
to try to forget he or she is playing
this sublime melody
on a instrument, and simply
imagine it being sung.
Arnold aptly drew the connection between
and this Rosamunde string quartet.
There's a famous song by Schubert called
"Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel,"
in which this young woman, Gretchen, sits
at a spinning wheel spinning out thread.
And she uses a pedal that she
presses to rotate
this wheel. This wheel is meant
to depict not only her sorrow, but her obsession
for Doctor Faust. It's always
some set of complex emotions here at play.
And this is what the accompanimental
figure sounds like.
Now, this figure is presented for two full measures
before Gretchen starts to sing her song.
And we have a very similar concept
at play here in the beginning of
the Rosamunde String Quartet.
The second violin plays this
haunting and sorrowful
accompanimental figure, before
the first violin arrives
with its gorgeous tune.
In this accompanimental figure,
we clearly hear the sorrowful nature
of this music. It's cast in
the key of A minor. But this rotating sorrow
is not obsessive, but in this case more
The very beginning of this string
quartet is presented
in A minor. In A minor, it's a triad of three pitches.
A, [PLAYS NOTE]
C, [PLAYS NOTE]
and E. [PLAYS NOTE]
The third degree of C [PLAYS]
is lowered in this triad, and that's why
it sounds minor.
And this is how the melody goes.
The first violin then repeats the melody,
and then starts to change it.
it rises with a sense of yearning and
urgency. And then all of a sudden, we
hear something entirely
different. We hear this rising scale.
Almost a sign of hope that's to come.
And it sounds like this.
Next, the melody will be presented in
A major. But this time, it'll take a
different direction. It'll start to rise,
and give us a sense of potential hope.
This is what it sounds like.
But guess what? We don't stay
in the key of A major, but we're suddenly interrupted
with the return of A minor.
And so there you have it.
This modal ambiguity. Mixed modes.
First in minor, then to major, and back
to minor. This passage has been aptly
described as Schubert
smiling through tears. I think it's very appropriate.
We have this combination of deep sorrow,
but yet a yearning for some future hope.
Now, let's listen
to this excerpt from the first movement
of the Rosamunde String Quartet