In the summer of 1819, 22-year-old Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and his friend were enjoying a walking tour in Upper Austria. Schubert found the environment “inconceivably beautiful” and it proved to be perhaps the happiest time of his short life. The summer holiday was filled with outings, music parties and impromptu concerts. Schubert was buoyant.
When they came to stay at the home of Sylvester Paumgartner, the wealthy amateur cellist commissioned the young composer to write a quintet for the available instruments in his household – violin, viola, cello, double bass and piano. This was an unusual combination, but Schubert accepted the challenge and skilfully overcame the potential balance problems in the ensemble with a tuneful and playable five-movement work. Paumgartner also requested Schubert incorporate his popular song ‘Die Forelle’ – The Trout.
And so, the fourth movement of the quintet is a set of variations on the melody of that sad little song.
Schubert probably never intended his Trout Quintet for wider public scrutiny, but Josef Czerny did the world a favour when he published this most sociable of pieces in 1829, a year after the composer’s early death.