The CD of the Month for December, 2016 is actually not only music by Schubert, but also the quartet ‘Voces Intimae’ by Jean Sibelius.
String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, D810 ‘Death and the Maiden’
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 56 ‘Voces Intimae’
Performed by the Ehnes Quartet
Death was heavily on the minds of both Schubert and Sibelius when they were composing the two string quartets on this new CD from the Ehnes Quartet. Sibelius had undergone several operations to remove a tumour in his throat. The bleak and highly personal 4th Symphony is the masterwork from this period, but the string quartet ‘Intimate Voices’ of 1908 should not be underestimated. This work has an almost Haydnesque construction, and the quartet’s first movement’s sheer perfection of form approaches that of the 3rd Symphony’s opening movement.
Franz Schubert wrote to a friend in 1824: “I am the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world…whose health will never be right again”. With his emotions veering from happy memories of earlier years to shuddering terror at the prospect of death, he composed two string quartets and the Octet over a two- month period.
The Schubert D minor quartet makes ingenious use of his earlier song ‘Death and the Maiden’ from 1817 in the slow movement’s variations. ‘Give me your hand, you fair and gentle creature; I am a friend and do not come to punish’ sings Death soothingly. The music captures Schubert’s fearful state of mind in a remarkable piece of music that has been a favorite for so many years.
Here is the sad slow movement from Schubert’s quartet: