original piano transcription of the Scherzo (Allegro Vivace) from Franz Schubert’s String Quartet No.15 in G major D 887
composition date: 1826
transcription date: 2011 (January 22)
partial piano solo transcription / arrangement, including only the 3rd, Scherzo movement: Allegro Vivace, in B minor
YouTube channel (embedded links below)
Schubert’s last quartet is an extraordinary composition, to say the obvious.
One day I decided to finally start listening to Schubert’s quartets, so I started with a CD by the Kodaly Quartet (Naxos) containing this quartet and an early work. “G major”, I read. Cool. I thought I was in for a broad, wonderful ride in mostly “major” mode when I pressed “play”. The ride was indeed broad and wonderful but in a totally different mood than I expected. I had never heard before a piece where major and minor modes were alternated so frequently. I quickly grew attached to it not only because of its musical depth, but also because of the human side I perceived. You see, I am a composer too and in some occasions I also used ruthless shifts major/minor/major/minor etc. but when I did that, it was to express total despair.
OK so TL;DR, fast forward a few years, I picked back the piece and challenged myself to transcribe the Scherzo. I had an I idea I could apply my usual technique of “alternated notes instead of repeated notes” but I wasn’t sure how much effective that would’ve been in this case. It turned out very effective. I was very pleased with the result and proud of myself when I completed this one.
I intentionally left a single passage (actually a single bar) with repeated notes as in the original, instead of alternated ones as during the whole transcription, at the very end; the effect is to emphasize the closure even more. Similarly in the middle of the first part there is a spot where chords take the place of alternated/repeated notes for a similar “shouted out” effect.
Finally let me blabber a bit about the original.
The movement is mastery all over, but I’m particularly impressed with the transition to the lullaby-like trio. The scherzo is in B minor and the trio begins on a repeated B… but it’s not the B of B minor anymore, it’s the B of G major, that is the major third. The harsh wintry wind lets up leaving warmth and peace to fill the scene. But the best is yet to come! After playing twice the G major theme, there is again a third-interval modulation, this time upwards: B major. Here we reach a hearth of pure Schubertian utopy. A tormented landscape painted in the first part is turned inside out (B minor to B major) and transformed in a singing idyll. The first part actually had a few bars in B major too but the effect here is totally different. Are we in front of a warm fireplace with our loved one? Are we on a flowery meadow in a warm day of Spring? Whatever the setting you imagine, your heart is now singing along the players. It’s at the same time a lullaby to soothe and a quiet “sursum corda” to stir up happiness.
It’s a lullaby for weary hearts, for everyone of us who are forced to face this harsh world every day. A lullaby for adults. It’s a composer’s magic, it’s Schubert magic. For a few seconds if anything, we can close our eyes and see paradise. For a few seconds, we can dream of being happy. And then, as with every dream true to its name, comes its end. The carillon slows down and stops on B – meanwhile we were brought back to G major without even noticing it. The fireplace turns to ash, clouds come hovering the meadows, we feel cold, we are back to reality. G is actually the herald of B minor in its more sinister note, the sixth. (I have always considered the sixth, not the seventh, to be the most tragic note of minor scales) And there we go again. For the happy end, we have to wait the fourth movement, and overcome an even more monumental rollercoaster.
Projects tbpt57 and tbpt75 (5 – 7 <-> 7 – 5) are both Scherzo movements from String Quartets.