Jon Lee


Schubert Piano Sonata in A major, op. 120, D. 664

Program Notes

In 1819, while vacationing in the town of Steyr, Schubert wrote a piano sonata for his student Josefine von Köhler, the daughter of one of his hosts. She, as well as the idyllic scenery, may have served as inspiration. (During this time he writes another work in A major, the famous Trout Quintet.)

Musicologist Alfred Einstein notes the sonata’s genesis after two abandoned attempts in 1818, revealing Schubert’s struggle to navigate a path distinct from Beethoven, whose influence loomed large over the sonata form.1 In this piece, Schubert draws on his lyrical strengths, aligning more with the models of Haydn and Mozart than Beethoven, who had recently completed his Op. 106 Hammerklavier.

Schubert’s prowess as a melodist is apparent, incorporating tunes into piano textures seen in his songs and dances. Beneath this surface, Schubert adeptly employs the sonata form to craft a cohesive work. Elements from the exposition in the lively first movement serve as source material for the tranquil second and the buoyant third movements. These include imitation between the hands, the treatment of scales as melodic material and the transformation of rhythmic motifs Schubert favored, which are often attributed to Beethoven (such as the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh).

Music historians explore connections between Schubert’s sonatas and songs (Einstein cites Der Unglückliche for the second movement, Hänflings Liebeswerbung for the third2), as he composed in both genres across his entire artistic career. These deeper links can offer an inspirational context for performers. Personally, I find the flow of the sonata reminiscent of Beethoven’s Op. 81a Les Adieux sonata, though here the narration is more reflective and the expression more intimate.


Leon Fleisher (18:11)

Other resources

  1. Einstein, Alfred. Schubert, a Musical Portrait, 156. Da Capo Press, 1981. 

  2. Einstein, 157–158. 

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