String Quartet No. 14 (Schubert) From Wikipedia | Music Appreciation
Composition arranged for orchestra by Andy Stein
The String Quartet No. 14 in D minor, known as Death and the Maiden, is a piece by Franz Schubert that has been called “one of the pillars of the chamber music repertoire.” Composed in 1824, after the composer suffered through a serious illness and realized that he was dying, it is Schubert’s testament to death. The quartet is named for the theme of the second movement, which Schubert took from a song he wrote in 1817 of the same title. The theme of death is palpable in all four movements of the quartet.
The quartet was first played in 1826 in a private home, and was not published until 1831, three years after Schubert’s death. Yet, passed over in his lifetime, the quartet has become a staple of the quartet repertoire. It is D 810 in Otto Erich Deutsch’s thematic catalog of Schubert’s works.
1823 and 1824 were hard years for Schubert. For much of 1823 he was sick, some scholars believe with an outburst of tertiary stage syphilis, and in May had to be hospitalized. He was also without money: he had entered into a disastrous deal with Diabelli to publish a batch of works, and received almost no payment; and his latest attempt at opera, Fierabras, was a flop. In a letter to a friend, he wrote,
Think of a man whose health can never be restored, and who from sheer despair makes matters worse instead of better. Think, I say, of a man whose brightest hopes have come to nothing, to whom love and friendship are but torture, and whose enthusiasm for the beautiful is fast vanishing; and ask yourself if such a man is not truly unhappy.
Yet, despite his bad health, poverty and depression, Schubert continued to turn out the tuneful, light and gemütlich music that made him the toast of Viennese society: the song cycle Die schöne Müllerin, the octet for string quartet, contrabass, clarinet, horn and bassoon, more than 20 songs, and numerous light pieces for piano.
After 1820, Schubert returned to the string quartet form, which he had last visited as a teenager. He wrote the one-movement Quartettsatz in 1820, and the Rosamunde quartet in 1824 using a theme from the incidental music that he wrote for a play that failed. These quartets are a huge step forward from his initial attempts. Even Schubert recognized this fact; in July 1824, he wrote his brother Ferdinand of his earlier quartets, “it would be better if you stuck to other quartets than mine, for there is nothing in them…” There are several qualities that set these mature quartets apart from Schubert’s earlier attempts. In the early quartets, it is primarily the first violin that carries the melody, with the other instruments playing supporting roles; in the later quartets, the part writing is much more advanced, and each instrument brings its own character and presence, for a more complex and integrated texture. Also, the later quartets are structurally much more integrated, with motifs, harmonies, and textures recurring in a way that ties the entire work together.