The Adagio from Schubert's String Quintet in C Major

Album: 40 Most Beautiful Love Themes (1828)

Songfacts®:

  • The String Quintet in C Major is a piece of chamber music written by Austrian composer Franz Schubert. It was composed during the summer of 1828 and is Schubert's final instrumental work. He wrote it two months before his tragic early death at the age of 31 of typhoid fever complicated by syphilis. The very last chord of the work eerily anticipates his passing, ending with a C major chord against a dissonant D-flat.
  • The work stands out for its somewhat unconventional instrumentation, as Schubert added a second cello to create dense and varied textures and only employed one rather than the customary two violas.
  • The Quintet was first performed on November 17, 1850 at the Musikverein in Vienna many years after his death. At the time Schubert was regarded as a composer who mainly focused on songs and piano pieces, and was not taken seriously as a chamber music composer.
  • The second movement, The Adagio, is the best known part of the Quintet. It is the second most requested piece of music from the BBC radio series Desert Island Discs over its first 60 years of broadcast. ("Ode to Joy" is the most popular work.).
  • "Adagio" refers to the tempo marking, which in this instance means to be performed at a slow pace. The original Italian means "at ease."
  • The second movement's bleak mood has made it popular as background music for contemplative or nocturnal scenes in film. These include the 2001 film Conspiracy and the 2003 movie, The Human Stain. The Dead On Time episode of ITV's Inspector Morse also draws heavily from this string quintet.

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