I started with the wonderful and disconcerting first movement of the last sonata, in B flat, D. 960. There is no point in considering them in numerical order as they were all sketched and composed together between the spring and autumn of Schubert's last year, 1828. Today I want to take a look at the second movement of the middle sonata, D. 959 in A major. Here is the opening:
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Taruskin in his Oxford History of Western Music talks about how Schubert somehow suspends time with harmonic and other means, but though we can certainly hear it in this opening theme, I am at a loss to explain how he does it exactly as there are no special harmonic, melodic or rhythmic devices present. It just works! Perhaps it is the very minimalist focus that makes this happen. Later on, there is a very busy and harmonically unstable development that changes key signature to C major (at the end of the first line in this example) but the notes themselves are clearly in C minor--at least for a few moments. The whole section visits a kaleidoscope of different keys:
Towards the end of the movement, right where we would expect a return of that wonderful opening theme, instead Schubert gives us a new, though similar theme, even simpler:
Notice that ominous trill from the B flat sonata--though here it appears just the once. This new theme is decorated with repeated note triplets and then the opening theme returns, very briefly, to end the movement. Here is a performance with Alfred Brendel:
Beethoven wrote a number of really astounding and profound slow movements, as did Mozart. Haydn, despite his cheery nature, wrote a few as well. But I doubt that anyone is really the superior of Schubert at moving and expressive slow movements.