Franz Schubert: String Quintet in C

Not everything a great composer writes is always great music. Everyone has a hit rate and these vary from genius to genius. Even by Schubert’s own standards, though, the Adagio from the String Quintet in C must have made him realise he had a corker on his hands.

His attempts to pitch it to his publisher were, nevertheless, gentle to say the least: ‘Finally I have written a quintet for 2 violins, 1 viola, and 2 violoncello ... The quintet rehearsal will only begin in the next few days. Should any of these compositions by any chance commend them- selves to you, please let me know.’

Within a couple of months, Schubert was dead – and this posthumously published work was revealed for the masterpiece it was. As his entreaty revealed, Schubert had tinkered with the standard setting of a string quintet to include an extra cello.

Although it had been done before, it’s a wonderful way of adding extra richness to proceedings. Match this with some of Schubert’s most profound and restrained writing and it was a recipe for a sure-fire hit.

With the extra cello, you tend to get nice pairings featuring an extra ‘celebrity’ cellist, or ensembles that come together specifically to perform this piece.

Recommended Recording

Mstislav Rostropovich (cello); Melos Quartet. Deutsche Grammophon: 4776357.