The Schubertian

Josef von Gahy was born in Hungary in 1793 but moved to Vienna c.1818. Like Josef von Spaun he was a civil servant, and it was probably Spaun who introduced him to Schubert. He soon became a member of Schubert’s group of friends, attending many Schubertiads and, as an accomplished pianist, playing Schubert’s four-hand piano pieces with him. After Schubert’s death Gahy formed a piano duo with Marie Stohl, a piano teacher and proficient pianist, whose sister Eleonore was a highly regarded Schubert singer. Gahy later fondly recalled his friendship with Schubert and the many enjoyable hours he spent playing duets with him when he provided Kreissle von Hellborn with some material for his major biography of the composer.

Gahy arranged several of Schubert’s instrumental and vocal works for piano duet. Apart form his transcription of the “Trout” Quintet (D.667), published by Josef Czerny in 1829 and recorded by Anthony Goldstone and Caroline Clemmow as part of The Unauthorised Piano Duos, Vol. 1 (Divine Art 25026), none of these arrangements was intended for publication. They include the Octet (D.803), the G major String Quartet (D.887), the String Quintet (D.956) and three of the pieces played on this disc: the Piano trio in B flat (D.898), the Notturno in E flat (D.897), possibly a rejected slow movement for the Trio, and the “Arpeggione” Sonata (D.821).

As Goldstone points out in the highly informative booklet accompanying the disc, these three transcriptions, the originals of which are housed in the Wiener Stadt- un Landesbibliothek, are “meticulously faithful to the originals”, resulting in “some extremely complicated writing” with “parts of phrases flying back and forth between the two players”. Examples of this abound in the first movement of the Trio and in the Notturno, for instance. The fact that Gahy, who played the secondo part, took care “not to assign to his right hand more than it could accomplish, for two of its fingers had by then become paralysed” and transferred some notes to the primo’s right hand to compensate, does not actually make a lot of difference to the listener. For the players, however, it can result in some unusual adjustments (technically and texturally) apart from the frequent octave displacements – but Goldstone and Clemmow solve the problems fearlessly, and with their customary panache and instinctive musical understanding. There is one questionable moment, however, in the first half of bar 79 in the slow movement (and repeated in bar 81) [approximately 4:40 minutes into track 2 of the disc]; the harmony of the original piano trio version seems to be distorted in the transcription, perhaps because the bass G is not given enough prominence?

In 1823 the Viennese guitarist Johann Georg Staufer built the arpeggione – a six-stringed bowed, fretted instrument, tuned exactly like a classical guitar. It was for this instrument that Schubert wrote his Sonata in A minor (D.821) in November 1824. The first edition of the work in 1871 included an alternative cello part, as the arpeggione was by then more or less extinct. Since then, of course, the work has been arranged for a variety of instrumental combinations, with or without piano; but, as Gahy died in 1864, four years before it was “discovered” in Vienna by George Grove, his transcription is clearly the first. One interesting feature, pointed out by Goldstone, is the appoggiatura-like “wrong” note at the beginning of bar 2 of the opening movement (Allegro moderato). For those familiar with the work, it certainly sounds out of place, particularly as it does not appear again later in the movement, but has to be accepted on its merits as Gahy’s “reading” of an unclearly notated note in the original manuscript.

The fourth piece on the disc is not one of Gahy’s transcriptions, but is Schubert’s own “Friendship” Rondo in D major (D.608). It has the subtitle ‘Notre amitié est invariable’ – not Schubert’s own but possibly added by the publisher Diabelli. As Schubert may have written the piece with Gahy in mind as his duet partner, it is tempting to think of this “constant friendship” as being an allusion to what was undeniably a very productive musical relationship.

We are indebted to Goldstone and Clemmow for bringing to light Gahy’s fine arrangements of three of Schubert’s instrumental works, and they succeed in transferring the joy of discovery to their interpretation of the pieces. The playing is of the highest quality, the textural balance is first-rate and the sound quality excellent. Highly recommended!

—A. Crawford Howie