Sonatina in D major, Op. 137, No. 1, D. 384
The violin was Schubert’s first seriously studied instrument – barring some piano lessons with his older brother Ignaz – and a family string quartet offered him a chamber music laboratory as a young teenager.
The years 1810-1811 were filled with string quartets, and in 1816 Schubert turned to solo violin works in groups of dances (including four comic Ländlers for two violins) and a set of three sonatas for violin and piano (first published posthumously as Sonatinas in an appeal to the amateur market).
These sonatas were composed about the same time as Schubert’s self-labeled “Tragic” Symphony, No. 4, and the other two of the group are both in minor keys and reflect some of the symphony’s dark passion, as well as the revolutionary stance of Beethoven, the young Schubert’s musical idol.
But Sonata in D major is more on the model of Mozart, valuing formal grace and lyric charm over emotional heroics. Its superficial simplicity – the unison triadic sequences of the opening theme, say – masks some instinctive sophistication, such as the imitative counterpoint, and dramatic personal touches, such as the shift to minor mode for the recapitulation of that triadic theme.
The second movement is a miniature marvel, a compact A-B-A form with the piano taking the lead in the initial dance and the violin in the central little song. The bookend dance is more fully conversational and follows a deft chromatic transition.
For a finale, Schubert offers unbridled joy in athletically leaping form, equably alternating the melodic lead between the instruments. — John Henken