I just couldn't let any more time go by without writing an entry about Franz Schubert's final chamber work; the magnificent, glorious String Quintet in C Major.
The quintet was written in 1828, just two months before his death. Contemporaneous with the wonderful last six piano sonatas and a number of songs, it is the 'Mt Everest' of his late works. Indeed, many consider it the high point of chamber music. Full stop. And I am in complete agreement.
Unprecedentally long (5 movements and almost an hour) and scored for the unusual combination of two 'cellos, a viola and two violins, there is not a moment that is less than thrilling.
Structured carefully and extremely lyrical, the quintet has found its way into the hearts and minds of many.
Artur Rubinstein requested the slow movement be played at his funeral. Alfredo Piatti, one of the most famous cellists of the 19th century, had the slow movement played at his bedside while he was dying. Another violinist even had the first seven bars of the slow movement inscribed on his tombstone.
The portamento slides on an old recording I have made by the 'Hollywood String Quartet' (a great name and a great quartet), are ravishing. But I prefer the newer recording that I have made by England's Raphael Ensemble. The slow movement is taken just a little bit slower and they seem to find just a little bit more spirit in the closing bars of the gypsy-style finalé.
The quintet is in some ways a summation of Schubert's cruelly short life. He left behind him a number of unfinished symphonies, a body of piano sonatas better than Beethoven's and more than 500 melodious songs. Yet his life was 'snuffed out' by syphilis just as his music was beginning to become better known.