Death and the Maiden


SCHUBERT  String Quartet No. 14 'Death and The Maiden' orchestra version
Virtual concert generously sponsored by The Rotary Club of Toronto
Archival video recorded live on May 5, 2017 at the Meridian Centre for the Arts

This Schubert masterpiece is one of the treasures of the repertoire. In this archival video recorded live, Nurhan Arman conducts Sinfonia Toronto in a beautiful and inspiring performance

Streamed April 9-May 8

Program notes
'Death and the Maiden' String Quartet No. 14 by Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828) 
Orchestral version by Nurhan Arman
The Death and the Maiden Quartet gives us Schubert’s dark side, a place quite different from the atmosphere often shown in prints, with a sociable young man at the keyboard among his circle of friends in a cosy Viennese interior. It is written in minor keys throughout, something Schubert never did in any other quartet. And its primary key, D minor, was deemed in the second half of the 19th-Century to be appropriate for depicting tragedy and turmoil. This quartet is the only composition of any kind Schubert ever wrote in D minor.

The first movement Allegro explodes into motion with a unison outburst reminiscent of the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and drives forward with a similar strength and powerful rhythm. Tender melodic episodes of Schubert’s typically elegant writing for strings do appear, but are abruptly overtaken by renewed storms and musical violence. Three themes are grounded in three different tonal areas, and the movement’s continuous harmonic movement adds to the emotional tension. A final tempest of feelings takes place in the coda, when Schubert whirls one of the major themes through a torrent of key changes on top of the powerful rhythm of the opening outburst.

The Andante con moto is a set of variations in G minor, based on the piano introduction to the famous song Der Tod und das Mädchen, “Death and the Maiden,” composed when Schubert was only twenty years old. The song’s text was a poem by Matthias Claudius, an 18th-Century clergyman fascinated by the Totentanz, the “dance of death,” a late-Medieval theatrical form that showed Death dancing and talking with the townsfolk - king, beggar, youth, knight, and maiden - before taking them away with him.

The third movement Scherzo: Allegro molto is concise. It begins angrily in D minor, but moves into a brighter, lyrical second section; the change may perhaps represent the contrast between grim Death and the gentle maiden.

The furious Presto that ends the quartet is a tarantella, an ancient Italian dance associated in legends with madness and sometimes also with death caused by the bite of a tarantula. Turbulence alternates with passages of lovely delicacy, carrying the essential dark-light dichotomy of the entire quartet through to its conclusion. The Prestissimo ending is traditional in tarantellas, but becomes painfully graphic in this depiction of the maiden’s struggle with inexorable Death.

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