Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Mitsuko Uchida

Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major is filled with sublime, crystalline melodies which unfold with an inherent sense of logic. It’s music filled with sunshine and the joy of youth. At the same time, there is an underlying and lingering wistfulness.

The 22-year-old Schubert wrote this music during the summer of 1819 while vacationing in the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. Surrounded by an “unimaginably lovely” landscape, Schubert composed the “Trout” Quintet during the same time. The manuscript for the Sonata was dedicated to the 18-year-old Josephine von Koller, a resident of the town. In a letter dated July 19, Schubert reported to his brother, “She is very pretty, plays the piano well, and is going to sing some of my songs.” The biographer Brian Newbould described the A major Sonata as “music of such wide-eyed youthful contentment that one could imagine it being a response to both the mountain scenery of Upper Austria and ‘a very pretty’ dedicatee.”

The warm, flowing theme which opens the first movement (Allegro moderato) is followed by a rhythmic homage to the Allegretto of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Beethoven motifs invade other works of Schubert (for example, the fleeting “Ode to Joy” reference in the final movement of the “Great” Ninth Symphony). Yet, these visiting motivic “guests” always blend seamlessly into their pristine, new environs. Near the end of the first movement’s development section (4:43), listen to the way the persistently recurring “Beethoven rhythm” is answered by a simple and serene canonic statement that is pure Schubert.

A new repeated rhythmic motive emerges in the Andante. The rhythm, in which a long note is followed by four short beats, propels the music forward with dancelike grace. Yet, the music is far removed from a conventional dance. It’s more like a hazy, contemplative daydream. As this sublimely simple melody unfolds, there are moments of wistful longing and lament.

The final movement (Allegro) moves back into the sunshine. Filled with sparkle, innocence, and fun, the musicologist Konrad Wolff once described this music as “a Viennese waltz danced in heaven.”

Here is Mitsuko Uchida’s 2000 recording:

Recordings

  • Schubert: Piano Sonata in A Major D. 664, Mitsuko Uchida Amazon

Featured Image: Austrian flowers in summer

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Mitsuko Uchida”

  1. Thanks for highlighting one of my favourite Schubert piano sonatas. The middle movement is technically quite accessible and appears in a lot of collections for amateurs and intermediate piano students- it’s also very lovely.

    The Schubert sonatas seem to have languished in the shadow of Beethoven’s for much of their history. It’s hard to imagine that many pianists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries scarcely paid them any attention.

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