Franz Schubert wrote two sets of four Impromptus. Both sets, the Opus 90 programmed tonight and the Opus 142, were written in 1827 the year of Beethoven’s death and the year before Schubert’s death. Though many consider these smaller pieces character pieces, they are longer than most and have no literary or outside references. There has been debate as to whether to consider them sonatas. Schumann saw the Opus 142 set in sonata form, and some debate surrounds the Opus 90. Even though debate exists, the individual Impromptus are often heard separately.
The first Impromptu is filled with variations of beautiful and simple melody. The opening single line statement is followed by a chordal variation, then a single line statement on another pitch level then a chordal variation. This is the essence of the beauty of this work. Each time there is some variation in either theme, harmony or both. After this introductory series of eight statements, the Impromptu gets on its way as Schubert sings through his special sort of exposition development and recapitulation. The coda, reminiscent of the introduction, winds the piece down.
The second Impromptu is noted by is light and flowing passage work. This fun piece is clearly in A-B-A form with a short coda. Number three is a song without words, also in A-B-A form. Being one of Schubert’s most beautiful expressions and being somewhat popular, it has been published a half step higher than is original key of Gb, supposedly for ease of playing. The final Impromptu, also in A-B-A form, has a passion about its middle section that speaks to the composer’s coming romanticism. However, the great poet of music lost his life to Typhoid Fever the following year at the early age of 31. The piece then returns to the falling arpeggios of the first section and comes to an abrupt end.
The Opus 90 comes off as a unified work when played together, as each of the masterful Impromptus sets a particular tone for the music that follows.