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TREVOR HOLD has dragged
from oblivion some music
you will not know.

14. Schubert's Piano Concerto in A-flat major ('The Unfinished')


As Lady Bracknell might have observed: 'To leave one work unfinished may be regarded as a misfortune; to leave two unfinished looks like carelessness'. We wonder what she would have made of Franz Schubert, who left dozens of works unfinished. We have the 'Unfinished' Symphony and the unfinished String Quartet, 'Quartettsatz', as well as several unfinished piano sonatas. Now we have, it seems, an unfinished Piano Concerto, the Ms. sketches of which have recently come to light. It consists of a sonata-allegro, complete in full score except for the last 17 bars; the short score of a slow movement; and fragments of a rondo finale. It is not clear why Schubert abandoned the work, though from comments scribbled on the margins of the score, it would appear to have been from boredom.

The opening allegro was written in a white heat of inspiration, during a holiday in the mountains near Graz; he seems to have run out of manuscript paper, for the last 50 bars are scribbled out on dinner napkins. It shows that Schubert hadn't quite come to grips with the special requirements of concerto sonata form. The orchestra begins impressively enough with a cornucopia of ideas - at least three fully-fledged themes for each of the two subject groups followed by a substantial codetta - so that by the time the piano makes its entry, everything has already been said. Schubert, however, sticks doggedly to the rules; thus we hear all the themes again. (Perhaps this is what Schumann referred to as his 'heavenly lengths...') The slow movement is the by now customary set of variations on a previously composed song, this time 'Heidenröslein'. Particularly effective is the third variation in which two cellos have the tune in 3rds and 6ths whilst the piano trills high above in octaves. From what exists of the sketches, the finale was to have been on a grand scale: a rondo, with a theme nearly ten minutes long, and at least four substantial episodes. One's heart sinks at the thought of how long the completed movement would have been. It is only fair to say that the composer himself had reservations, for, where the sketch breaks off, he has scribbled the words, 'Mein Gott, das ist so langweilig'.

Despite being in such an incomplete state, it is hoped that a performing edition will soon be published and its belated premiere given. Already scholars of international standing, as well as several out-of-work composers, are vying for the rights to complete the music. Offers should be sent in a sealed envelope to:


Copyright © 24 February 2000, Trevor Hold, Peterborough, UK


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