A recording of Schubert’s Imromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major.
This feels like a distinctly unsummery piece of music, so perhaps an odd choice for a July recording. The hardest part always seems to be getting into the right mood before starting — my favourite recordings (such as Mitsuko Uschida’s) have a sense of unearthly stillness in the opening thanks just to the way they play the first three notes. I always feel like I struggle to pull it off.
The structure of the piece is, on its face, fairly simple. There’s an opening “A” section in G-flat major; a “B” section that moves through multiple keys; a repeat of the “A” section, in G-flat major again; and a “Coda”, also in G-flat major. ABA+Coda — not pushing the boat there; this is an extremely common structure.
The simplicity of the structure isn’t necessarily apparent, however. While the A section is fairly easy to keep track of — featuring extremely regular, periodic phrasing and frequent cadences — you can get quite easily lost in the B section. (This is true whether you’re a performer or a listener!) And the piece is texturally entirely homogenous. The quaver-arpeggio accompaniment is constant throughout, providing a forward momentum that seems to pay little regard for key change or phrase endings.
The B section, from around 1:34, is extremely expansive, featuring multiple subsections — and the divisions between the subsections are not always precisely defined; there are often linking passages of 2-3 bars that don’t seem to belong precisely to the preceding subsection or the following subsection. The modulations in this section are unending: the B section begins in E-flat minor, but moves through C-flat major (2:02), E-flat major (3:10) and (briefly, sort of) A-flat minor before returning to G-flat major for the recapitulation of the A section (3:44). The modulations are all highly dramatised: the B section feels as though it spends more time “between keys” than it does in any single tonal area.
The Coda (5:02) is straightforward from a composer/analyst’s point of view, but that makes it one of the more difficult passages to pull off. There’s an incredible simplicity — almost naivety — to the melodic line, and it’s tricky to know quite what to do with it as a result.
Apologies for the sound of some pages being turned — hopefully they don’t distract too much from the music!