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Johann SCHOBERT (c.1735-1767)
Quartet in F minor, Op.VII No.2 [13:01]
Trio in B flat, Op.XVI, No.1 [14:34]
Sonata in D minor, Op.XIV, No.4 [11:22]
Sonata in A, Op.XIV, No.5 [10:19]
Trio in F, Op.XVI, No.4 [15:36]
Quartet in E flat, Op.XIV, No.1 [9:52]
Luciano Sgrizzi (pianoforte), Ensemble 415: Chiara Banchini, Véronique Méjean (violins), Philipp Bosbach (cello)
rec. October 1988.
HARMONIA MUNDI HMA 1951294 [76:40]




Almost all of Schobert’s music seems to belong to the 1760s, one of those decades in which there emerges clear evidence of important changes in European sensibility. It was the decade, for example, in which Jean-Jacques Rousseau published Julie, ou La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761), Du contrat social (1762); and Émile (1762). In doing so he did much to prepare the ground for romanticism, with his emphasis on the value of emotional states such as sorrow and romantic longing, on the desirability of ‘communion’ with nature and on that ‘freedom’ famously alluded to in the first sentence of  Du contrat social: “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains”.  It was also the decade in which Gluck’s operatic reforms (Orfeo ed Euridice belongs to 1762) would make possible the emergence of ‘romantic’ opera. Some of C.P.E. Bach’s finest music of the empfindsamer Stil (‘the highly sensitive style’) also belongs to these years, fittingly for a decade which also saw the emergence of the Gothic novel (with Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1765) and the new subjectivity of novels such as Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (1760).

The exact date and place of Schobert’s birth are uncertain. He appears in Paris, as a young musician, in the service of the Prince Louis-François of Bourbon-Conti in 1760 or 1761, just in time to respond to the new tendencies. His compositions seem perfectly to reflect and articulate the new sensibility - sensitive, inward, marked at times by a pleasing freshness and spontaneity of expression. He doesn’t entirely escape the idioms of the older sensibility; he is not, that is to say, a major innovator - and he was probably little more than thirty at his death. Yet his music exerted an influence on greater musicians than himself. The young Mozart and his sister encountered Schobert in Paris in 1763-4. The second movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K39 is adapted from the opening movement of Schobert’s Sonata Op.17 No.2. On a later visit to Paris in 1778 - some twenty years after Schobert’s death - Mozart is known to have taught sonatas by Schobert to his pupils.

This is fascinating and – at times – lovely music. The very first track of the CD, the andante which opens the Quartet in F minor, is music of considerable urgency and power, music of unexpected emotional expressiveness. The Sonata in D minor has a marvellous opening allegro and a tumultuous Presto. It also has a rather dull andante sandwiched in between these two striking movements. Herein lies the problem with Schobert. He can rarely sustain his invention throughout the entire work and there are some rather clumsy attempts to develop even some of his best material. So, this is flawed music, minor music – but enjoyable and historically fascinating.

The recordings, now almost twenty years old, are clear and vivid; the performances are attractive and engaging. The use of a Viennese piano of 1820 is not an entirely happy choice. Certainly it makes Schobert’s passing resemblances to later musicians all the more striking, but it does rather skew the balance of the ensemble. The early editions all appear to specify the use of the harpsichord.

There have been later and more extensive recordings of Schobert’s music – such as those by The Four Nations Ensemble on two CDs from Gaudeamus and by Miklos Spanyi - whose use of the tangent piano seems well-suited to the music - and Peter Szuts on Hungaroton. They all have things to recommend them and all contain music worth getting to know. But this Harmonia Mundi remains an attractive sampler.

Glyn Pursglove


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