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Schubert's Trout Quintet D. 667

Schubert's Trout Quintet is one of his greatest works, as evidenced by regular performances in the concert repertory and the huge number of recordings available. Schubert was visiting the town of Steyr with his friend, Vogl, who sang many of his songs including the lied Die Forelle on which the Theme and Variations movement in the quintet is based. Sylvester Paumgartner, a gentleman musician living in the town, was a collector of music and musical instruments who was also very fond of music. It is probable that he heard the song, for he suggested to Schubert that he might compose a quintet around it(Schubert and his World A Biographical Dictionary, Peter Clive, Clarendon Press Oxford, 1987). The result was the Trout Quintet, Deutsche No. 667. This was composed during the summer and by the autumn of 1819 it was completed.(The New Grove Schubert, Maurice J E Brown with Eric Sams, Papermac, 1982).

The instrumentation in the quintet is a little unusual. Instead of the piano plus string quartet as is seen in most piano quintet scores, Schubert wrote the music for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. In addition there are five movements - the standard sonata form first movement, Allegro Vivace in A major, the Andante in D major, the Scherzo: Presto, the Andantino - Allegretto in D major and the Allegro Giusto finale. It is the Andantino - Allegretto in which we hear the Theme and Variations in which the song Die Forelle which gives the work its name is explored.

The Trout Quintet is an enchanting work which almost always results in a hushed auditorium when played in the concert hall. It requires skilled instrumentalists to bring out its best qualities; the ecstatic, transcendental joy and switches in mood to depths of sadness so characteristic of Schubert, particularly in this work. It is a particularly lyrical and easy piece of Schubert to listen to and an excellent introduction to his instrumental music for the unfamiliar listener.

There are two recordings I particularly like and play regularly from my own collection. The first is Schubert "Trout" Quintet, Arpeggione Sonata, Fantasy and Octet with Curzon, Rostropovich, Britten, Lupu, Goldberg and the Wiener Octet.I really don't know how many times I've listened to this CD. I was lucky enough to hear Clifford Curzon playing the Trout Quintet live in the Edinburgh Usher Hall years ago as a child in an unforgettable performance, and this recording brings back memories of the brilliance of his playing in the concert hall. The performance by Rostropovich of the Arpeggione Sonata is also well worth adding to your record collection although it is worth being aware that it is a very fluid, free interpretation, beautifully accompanied by Britten.

The other recording I love is the Jacqueline Du Pre film The Trout (Film By C Nupen) [DVD] [2005]
by Christopher Nupen. It includes not only Jacqueline Du Pre as the celloist but her husband, Daniel Barenboim on the piano, Pinchas Zuckerman (addressed as "Pinky" in the film!), Ishak Perlman and, perhaps surprisingly, the conductor Zubin Mehta on the Double Bass. This performance is accompanied by a poignant film about Ms Du Pre and many musicians who knew her find it difficult to listen to because of the tonality (the musicians in the film chose to play it in B flat major instead of A major), and because of the wonderful style of their playing. It remains, however, one of the great performances of the quintet of the 20th century, and I wouldn't be without it.

Both of these recordings are part of the author's personal collection, purchased with her own money.

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