An Autumn Sonata – Part 2: finding context and background 

A personal journey through Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata

The journey continues…..

My nature tends towards the intellectual when studying and learning music, and my approach to the Sonata in A D959 was no different. After an initial sight-read through the entire work to gain a sense of the overall structure and narrative arc of the piece, I set about reading and listening around the music as far as possible to understand the context and background to this music before the serious note-learning process began. Here I share my reading list and “background listening” Spotify playlist. I have starred the books/articles I found most useful


Schubert’s Late Music: History, Theory, Style – Lorraine Byrne Bodley (ed) and Julian Horton (ed) (Cambridge: CUP, 2016)*

Music Sense and Nonsense – Alfred Brendel (London: The Robson Press, 2015)*

The Cambridge Companion to Schubert – Christopher H Gibbs, ed (Cambridge: CUP, 1997)

Franz Schubert: an essential guide to his life and works – Stephen Jackson (London: Pavilion Books/ClassicFM, 1996 )

Franz Schubert’s Music in Performance – David Montgomery (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2003)

Schubert Studies – Brian Newbould, ed (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 1998)*

Schubert: The Music and the Man – Brian Newbould (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999)

The Classical Style – Charles Rosen (London: Faber & Faber, 1997)


‘Schubert the Progressive: The Role of Resonance and Gesture in the Piano Sonata in A, D. 959’ – Robert S. Hatten Intégral Vol. 7 (1993), pp. 38-81

Schubert’s Dream’ – Peter Pesic, 19th-Century Music, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 136-144

‘Schubert’s Volcanic Temper’ – Hugh MacDonald, The Musical Times, Vol. 119, No. 1629, Schubert Anniversary Issue (Nov., 1978), pp. 949-952

In addition, various reviews of the sonata in performance, interviews with pianists, blogs and other resources, the internet proving a rich and varied source of reading material.

Alongside the reading, I undertook a lot of listening to immerse myself in Schubert’s distinct and very personal soundworld. This included some 15 recordings of the D959, from Arthur Schnabel and Shura Cherkassy to Inon Barnatan and Shai Wosner (whose recording of the sonata includes an interesting “take” on the andantino by Missy Mazzoli), and 5 live performances of the Sonata (including by Piers Lane, Andras Schiff and Richard Goode). This kind of listening is incredibly useful – one does not seek to copy or imitate these pianists in their interpretation of the work, but comparative listening and concert going offers useful context/insight into interpretative possibilities and how to present the work in performance. As the playlist below reveals, I have also listened to songs, chamber music, and symphonies. The idea that Schubert’s piano music is informed by his lieder writing is true up to a certain point, but the late piano sonatas are also rich in orchestral and string-quartet writing.