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Lake District countdown 6: Gemma on Schubert

In the last of our posts counting down to our upcoming concert as part of the Lake District Summer Music festival, cellist Gemma explores Schubert’s famous ‘Trout’ Quintet.

Perhaps the most popular and well-known composer in the programme, it is hard to know where to begin with such a giant of the classical era.  Schubert’s ‘Trout’ Quintet, scored for piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass makes a departure from the more standard instrumentations of the time.  What has always struck me about this work since the Berkeley Ensemble’s first of many performances, is the quite unique instrumentation and the emotional facets that this provides. As a cellist, introducing the double bass into the mix is always a joy and Schubert’s Quintet is no exception. Apart from Hummel’s earlier work that inspired the instrumentation for this commission, as far as I’m aware there is no other work in common performance for this combination (although I’d love to hear of any lesser known works, we’re always on the look-out for rarely-performed partner pieces to feature alongside the more popular works!).

The work is known as the Trout because of Schubert’s famous variations on the theme ‘Die Forelle’ taken from his early lied. Although this movement is an exceptional display of compositional skill and tenderness, for me it is the other movements that carry the emotional depth and breadth of the work. The work is notable for its timbral explorations featuring the piano to a much greater extent in the higher registers, facilitated by the presence of the double bass taking responsibility for the bass register.  The same can be said for the cello which spends a much greater proportion of its time playing with the viola exploring the inner textures (first movement) or in a harmonising melodic role (second movement), allowing the bass to carry the weight of the bass line.

Right from the opening chord this work has always captured my imagination. Whether or not Schubert intended for his watery theme to infiltrate each movement, the work is touching, youthful and evocative. Viewed generally as a light and bright work, the double bass, in my view, provides nuance and emotional depth that keeps this work away from the realms of frivolity and superficiality and much closer to the twists and turns of the human condition.

Read other blogs in this series:

Dan on Schoenberg
Paul on Poulenc
John on Prokofiev
Sophie on Woolrich
Andrew on Martinů