Well regarded among pianists, the “Little” A major sonata is so called to distinguish it from the hefty 1828 sonata in the same key. It is the shortest among Schubert’s complete sonatas. The manuscript, completed in July 1819, was dedicated to Josephine von Koller of Steyr in Upper Austria, whom he considered to be “very pretty” and “a good pianist.” The lyrical, buoyant, in spots typically poignant nature of this sonata fits the image of a young Schubert in love, living in a summery Austrian countryside, which he also considered to be “unimaginably lovely.”
The A major sonata is straightforward, with a dulcet melodic opening. It was the first of Schubert’s piano sonatas where the sonata form as perfected by his idol, Beethoven, does not seem wrestled with; rather, it is a “joyous breakthrough,” a carefree triumph over strict rules of construction.
The original manuscript to this “little” sonata has been lost.
Album cover for Wilhelm Kempff’s recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas on DG 139 935 (1965), which received the Grand Prix du Disque.
Kempff was born in Jüterbog, Brandenburg, in 1895. He grew up in nearby Potsdam where his father was a royal music director and organist at St. Nicolai Church. His grandfather was also an organist and his brother Georg became director of church music at the University of Erlangen. Kempff studied music at first at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik at the age of nine after receiving lessons from his father at a younger age. Whilst there he studied composition with Robert Kahn and piano with Karl Heinrich Barth (with whom Arthur Rubinstein also studied). In 1914 Kempff moved on to study at the Viktoria gymnasium in Potsdam before returning to Berlin to finish his training.
He left recordings of most of his repertory, including the complete sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert. He performed to an advanced age, concertizing past his eightieth birthday. His association with the Berlin Philharmonic spanned over sixty years. Read more
Schubert wrote his Overture in E minor in 1819. It was performed in Vienna two years later, but then disappeared from public view until the publication of Schubert’s collected works in 1886. Some Schubertians regard it as a landmark work of unusual power, breaking ground that he would build on in his last two symphonies. Schubert biographer John Reed appears to disagree when he writes that it “lacks any touch of Schubertian charm. The themes are short and symphonic, rather than lyrical.” But the two opinions are reconcilable. The Overture is, in a sense, Schubert doing Beethoven: The short motifs building into longer sequences and the mounting tension and explosive climaxes all show Beethoven’s influence on the 22-year-old Schubert. At the same time, the actual construction of those sequences, with the same motif repeated at progressively higher or lower pitches, harks back to Baroque music. Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, and strings.This performance by the Prague Sinfonia, conducted by Christian Benda