The Kennedy Center

Quartet for Strings No. 12 in C minor, D 703/Op. posth "Quartettsatz"

About the Work

Franz Schubert Composer: Franz Schubert
© Peter Laki

By the time he was 20, Schubert had written more than a dozen string quartets. In 1820, after a hiatus of several years, he wrote this unfinished work, which stands as the first string quartet of his maturity. He only completed the first movement; the second was barely started before the composition broke off, for unknown reasons.

Having grown used to the Allegro assai as a string quartet in a single movement, we may feel that it is self-contained to the point of not even requiring a continuation. This sensation is reinforced by the unusual form of the piece: the tempestuous opening idea does not return at the beginning of the recapitulation as expected, but only at the very end, functioning as a "curtain." In the meantime, we hear melodies of unspeakable sweetness and many magical modulations, occasionally interrupted by agitated transitions. The Quartettsatz is one of Schubert's "signature" pieces that summarize the widely divergent aspects of his unique artistic personality.