Schubert - Complete Piano Sonatas (II) - Paul Badura-Skoda, Piano
Part II: Nos. 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12 (Parts III & IV follow shortly...)
(7) In E-Flat, Op. 122, D. 568 (1817) - (8) In F-Sharp minor, D. 571/604/570* - (9) In B, Op. 147, D. 575 (1817) - (10) In C, D. 613/612 (1818)* - (11) In F minor, D. 625/505 (1818)* - (12) In A, Op. 120, D. 664 (1819) (*Unfinished; completed by Paul Badura-Skoda)
Twelve LPs (in four volumes) of the complete piano sonatas of Schubert - 20 in total - performed by Paul Badura-Skoda were issued on the RCA Victrola label in 1971 (the exact year, in fact, during which I acquired the LPs presented here). According to the accompanying notes, they were recorded in Europe. Otherwise, their history "as recordings" is unknown to me. What I do know is that they comprise yet another set of remarkable recordings issued by RCA which have subsequently disappeared into something like a black memory hole.*
For my own part, I cannot imagine - after all these years - being without this set. For me, these sonatas constitute a small musical universe unlike any other and continue to form an integral part of my ongoing listening. As far as the performances themselves are concerned, I can only say that there is something happening here which goes beyond "a great artist producing great performances." With increasing exposure to these performances, one begins to have an uncanny sense of the composer speaking through the artist. As a phenomenon this impression is perhaps best described as following in the most direct, natural way possible from what Paul Badura-Skoda writes below over his own personal / artistic relation to Schubert's piano music.
From Paul Badura-Skoda's notes for this issue:
"Concert pianists are often reproached for a lack of variety in their programs. We often concentrate on a relatively small number of masterpieces that to us present an eternal challenge. Yet to many a listener the repeated confrontation with a well-known work, such as Beethoven's 'Appassionata,' might reduce the genuine emotional response and lead to an attitude of rather uninvolved comparison of interpretational nuances. This is a far cry indeed from the original intention of a genius to communicate a deep personal experience, which should cause a cathartic effect on the listener and enrich and renew him in soul and spirit.
Fortunately there are still great works to be discovered that have not yet lost their original appeal. Schubert's piano works in particular have suffered an almost unbelievable neglect. When Schubert died in 1828 at the age of 31, nobody was aware of his greatness. He was known as an outstanding composer of lieder, but none of his great symphonic works had been performed or published during his lifetime. Of his 20 piano sonatas only three had appeared in print.... It took 100 years before the rest of them became published, often in rather obscure editions. Thanks to the recent efforts of the English Schubert scholar, Maurice J.E. Brown, the material has been organized and the chronology of the sonatas definitely established.
Here then was a rich treasure of piano music to be unearthed. Since my childhood I have loved Schubert's piano works. They have exercised a never-ending fascination for me. Having been born in Vienna like him, I have never had any trouble in understanding his musical idiom and in identifying myself with the sorrow and the joy, the mystical and the earthbound, the longing and the smile, the love of nature and the Viennese dance rhythms as expressed in his music. There was an infinite joy of discovery even within the 11 sonatas found in most collected editions, few of which are heard in public. Later, the fascination grew even more as I started to make a musicological study of the sonatas. The Viennese music libraries contain a wealth of Schubert's autographs and sketches, which offer valuable insight into his working process. Studying them was like looking over the composer's shoulder and witnessing the miracle of creation. As a result of this painstaking study hundreds of errors that exist in printed editions could be corrected.
The study of Schubert's manuscripts inspired me also to take a small active part in the effort of creation, for several of his sonatas are unfinished. No other great composer has left so many unfinished works, thus creating an enigma that cannot be completely solved. Most of them were by no means inferior works he abandoned because he was dissatisfied. The case of the 'Unfinished' Symphony - so complete in itself - proves this. I am rather inclined to believe it was the force of inspiration that often prevented Schubert from finishing a work. Having barely brought the essential parts of a sonata movement to paper, he immediately set out to write the next movement, and so forth. Although he had a very quick pen, his mind was far quicker. He may have been haunted by a premonition of an early death..."
And from the notes of Maurice J.E. Brown:
"In the first group [of sonatas] two are of special interest; they have been 'completed' by Paul Badura-Skoda, and his work enables us to hear much that is individual and attractive and that would otherwise remain unheard.... The first of these sonatas is in C, D. 279, composed in September 1815 ...
The second sonata is Schubert's eighth, in F-sharp minor, which as the manuscript stands lacks a slow movement. Here knowledge of Schubert's methods in 1817 points to the fact that the missing movement is an Andante in A, D. 604. For reasons of economy the composer used the blank pages from earlier manuscripts for his sketches and fair copies; the Andante is written on the back of an empty leaf found in sketches for the Overture in B-flat, D. 470. The Overture was composed in September 1816, and the Andante must be of a later date - presumably of the same period as the rest of the sonata, June 1817. In style and beauty the A major Andante fits the other three movements like a glove; it is one of the loveliest inspirations of Schubert's earlier years, and I for one would accept far flimsier reasons than these for its inclusion in the F-sharp minor sonata, if thereby it can emerge from obscurity. Paul Badura-Skoda has completed the fragmentary first and last movements, which gives us the opportunity to hear this original and graceful example of an early Schubert sonata....
The unfinished Sonata in C, D. 840, started in April 1825, is one of the outstanding works of the composer's middle years. The first two movements are complete, and the suggestion has been made that these two movements should be performed as a kind of 'Unfinished' sonata, just as the first two movements of the 'Unfinished' Symphony are performed....
Paul Badura-Skoda has completed the last two movements, which Schubert left unfinished, and he plays his version in this recording....
The difficult task of writing a development section and recapitulation for the finale has been accomplished remarkably well: Badura-Skoda's absorbtion in the Schubertian idiom is admirable; his composition shows Schubert's gigantic conception of a finale in sonata form, in which each episode is in itself a miniature rondo...."
Of course, the fragmentary quotes provided here are only intended as a foretaste of the extensive commentaries included in this set; interested readers are urged to consult the notes in their entirety.
In his conclusion Brown writes:
"It may be true of these sonatas that, as Colin Mason wrote, '...although they will always hold their high place in the esteem and affection of initiates, it will probably continue to be a perpetual struggle to keep the public aware of and interested in them.' Let us be thankful that there will always be those who are prepared to undertake that 'perpetual struggle.' "
LP transfers of material issued 1971 (RCA).
Includes covers and complete notes by Paul Badura-Skoda and Maurice J.E. Brown, etc.
*This seems to represent a pattern RCA specialized in well before 1971: my late friend who had worked as a classical music record seller in Los Angeles during the 1930s - 40s was still bitterly complaining during the 1980s about the massive cuts RCA had already made in their 1943 catalogue, eliminating countless "older" recordings ..."All that great music - simply gone!", I remember him saying repeatedly.
A significant number of Schubert's piano sonatas likely remain unknown even to lovers of Schubert's piano music in general. And I can't avoid being reminded of the fact that it was only during my late friend's lifetime that Rachmaninov (who, incidentally, my friend heard in performance during the 1930s) expressed his total astonishment to learn that Schubert even wrote piano sonatas. Hopefully, this upload changes this situation a bit. After all, hearing these same LPs has already persuaded at least one pianist to perform Paul Badura-Skoda's completion of the "Unfinished" Sonata in C, D. 840 as part of a final examination recital at a major American music school. In addition, other classical musicians and music lovers I've known over the years have had their only listening exposure to a number of the sonatas in this collection - basically, because no other recordings of the works in question have existed.