Composers > Anecdotes > Schubert: String Quintet Op. 163, D 956 - Premiered Today in 1850
by Georg Predota | November 17th, 2018

standard Schubert: String Quintet Op. 163, D 956
Premiered Today in 1850

Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert

In late September or early October 1828—two months before his death—Franz Schubert completed his C-major string quintet. He passed the work to his Leipzig publisher Heinrich Albert Probst on 2 October 1828, writing in the accompanying letter, “Among other things, I have composed three sonatas for piano solo, which I would like to dedicate to Hummel. I have also set several poems by Heine of Hamburg, which went down extraordinarily well here, and finally have completed a quintet for 2 violins, 1 viola and 2 violoncellos. I have played the sonatas in several places, to much applause, but the quintet will only be tried out in the coming days. Should any of these compositions by any chance commend themselves to you, please let me know.” Probst did reply, however, he completely ignored the quintet. Instead, he was asking to see some of Schubert’s vocal works and requesting more popular piano music. Six weeks later, Schubert was dead at the age of 31.

Schubert: String Quintet Op. 163, D 956
Hellmesberger Quartet

Hellmesberger Quartet

The Heine settings, assembled by the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger, appeared in print in May 1829 under the title “Schwanengesang.” Haslinger had also acquired the rights to the three piano sonatas, but he failed to issue them. It was left to Anton Diabelli to publish them ten years later, and since Hummel was no longer alive, the publisher instead inscribed the sonatas to Schumann. As for the string quintet, widely regarded as one of the most perfectly conceived works in the entire chamber music literature, it lay forgotten for over 2 decades! Finally, in 1850 the famous Hellmesberger Quartet—founded by violinist Josef Hellmesberger who had been born only two weeks before Schubert’s death—premiered the quintet on 17 November 1850 at the Musikverein in Vienna. Adding insult to injury, it took another three years before the work finally appeared in print!

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