In December 1827, shortly after completing the final twelve songs of Winterreise, Schubert composed another work calculated to display Slavík’s virtuoso technique: the Fantasy in C major D934, premiered by the violinist and Bocklet at a Viennese concert in January 1828. From a contemporary review we can glean that the audience was less than enchanted. ‘The Fantasie occupied rather too much of the time a Viennese is prepared to devote to pleasures of the mind. The hall emptied gradually, and the writer confesses that he too is unable to say anything about the conclusion of this piece.’
Original listeners, that Viennese critic included, seem to have been fazed by both the Fantasy’s length and its unusual structure: a series of contrasted, loosely linked sections built around a sequence of variations on a Schubert song. The not-so-slow introduction (Andante molto) opens with the same C major-minor ambiguity as the String Quintet, composed the following autumn. Here the violin cantilena soars above flamboyant figuration in which the piano seems to be aping an orchestral string tremolo. Next comes a delightful, Hungarian-style Allegretto in A minor-major, with the two instruments playing in canon. After some colourful Schubertian modulations, the music works its way to the verge of A flat major for the Fantasy’s long centrepiece: a series of four variations on Schubert’s 1822 setting of Friedrich Rückert’s Sei mir gegrüsst! (‘I greet you!’), whose soulful melody and suave waltz lilt had made it one of his most popular songs.
For its new incarnation Schubert considerably altered the song melody, remembering in the process a phrase from the first movement of Mozart’s A major Sonata, K331 (the one with the Rondo alla turca). The first three variations are bravura showpieces, with shades of Paganini—then all the rage in Vienna—in the prancing, glittering violin figuration; the fourth recreates the song’s original lyricism, drifts towards C major and ushers in a shortened reprise of the introduction. This in turn leads to the Fantasy’s ‘finale’, a swaggering Allegro vivace in Schubert’s best Marche militaire vein (a faint echo here of the Rondeau brillant). A swerve to A flat brings a final reminiscence of Sei mir gegrüsst!, before the march launches a tumultuous send-off that might even have roused that first Viennese critic had he bothered to stay the course.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2013