Schubert – Quintet in A major “The Trout”:
Barenboim – Perlman – Zukerman – du Pré – Mehta
The Trout Quintet is the popular name for the Piano Quintet in A major by Franz Schubert. In Otto Erich Deutsch‘s catalogue of Schubert’s works, it is D. 667. The work was composed in 1819, when Schubert was only 22 years old; it was not published, however, until 1829, a year after his death.Rather than the usual piano quintet lineup of piano and string quartet, Schubert’s piece is written for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. The composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel had rearranged his own Septet for the same instrumentation, and the Trout was actually written for a group of musicians coming together to play Hummel’s work.
The piece is known as the Trout because the fourth movement is a set of variations on Schubert’s earlier Lied “Die Forelle” (The Trout). The quintet was written for Sylvester Paumgartner, of Steyr in Upper Austria, a wealthy music patron and amateur cellist, who also suggested that Schubert include a set of variations on the Lied. Sets of variations on melodies from his Lieder are found in four other works by Schubert: the Death and the Maiden Quartet, the “Trockne Blumen” Variations for Flute and Piano (D. 802), the Wanderer Fantasy, and the Fantasia in C major for Violin and Piano (D. 934, on “Sei mir gegrüßt”).
The rising sextuplet figure from the song’s accompaniment is used as a unifying motif throughout the quintet, and related figures appear in four out of the five movements – all but the Scherzo. As in the song, the figure is usually introduced by the piano, ascending.
Compared to other major chamber works by Schubert, such as the last three string quartets and the string quintet, the Trout Quintet is a leisurely work, characterized by lower structural coherence, especially in its outer movements and the Andante. These movements contain unusually long repetitions of previously stated material, sometimes transposed, with little or no structural reworking, aimed at generating an overall unified dramatic design (“mechanical” in Martin Chusid’s words).
The importance of the piece stems mainly from its use of an original and innovative harmonic language, rich in mediants and chromaticism, and from its timbralcharacteristics. The Trout Quintet has a unique sonority among chamber works for piano and strings, due mainly to the piano part, which for substantial sections of the piece concentrates on the highest register of the instrument, with both hands playing the same melodic line an octave apart. Such writing also occurs in other chamber works by Schubert, such as the piano trios, but to a much lesser extent, and is characteristic of Schubert’s works for piano four-hands, one of his most personal musical genres. Such timbral writing may have influenced the works of Romantic composers such as Frédéric Chopin, who admired Schubert’s music for piano four-hands
The quintet forms the basis of Christopher Nupen‘s 1969 film The Trout, in which Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline du Pré, Daniel Barenboim and Zubin Mehta perform it at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.