In his short life, Austrian composer Franz Schubert (born January 31, 1797) wrote over 1000 pieces of music. Let’s take a minute to focus on his piano impromptus.

Franz Schubert

In his short life, Austrian composer Franz Schubert (born January 31, 1797) wrote over 1000 pieces of music, 600 of them lieder or “songs”—short, lyrical compositions for voice and piano that brought him great acclaim. As posited by NPR:

Two hundred years ago today, a 17-year-old kid from Vienna wrote a song that would change the way composers thought about songwriting. That kid was Franz Schubert, and his song "Gretchen am Spinnrade" (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) put German art song — or lieder as it's called — on the map. The song's dramatic punch and bold innovations still reverberate today.

Schubert lieder make regular appearances during the American Pianists Awards Song Recital. Here are finalist Sam Hong and soprano Jessica Rivera performing the composer’s "Die Forelle” in the 2017 competition:


In addition to his famed lieder, Schubert also wrote seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music, and a large body of piano and chamber music. Let’s take a minute to focus on his piano impromptus.

In classical music, an impromptu is a musical composition that is performed or played spontaneously, without any prior planning or rehearsal. The term "impromptu" comes from the Italian word "improvviso," which means "unforeseen" or "unexpected."

Impromptus were particularly popular during the Romantic period of classical music, which spanned the late 18th century to the early 20th century. Composers such as Schubert, Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann and Gabriel Fauré wrote numerous impromptus for piano. These pieces often feature a lyrical melody and a free-flowing structure, with a sense of improvisation and spontaneity.

Schubert’s oeuvre included several examples, first of which are a series of eight pieces for solo piano composed in 1827.

These were published in two sets of four impromptus each: the first two pieces in the first set were published in the composer's lifetime as Op. 90; the second set was published posthumously as Op. 142 in 1839. The third and fourth pieces in the first set were published in 1857. The two sets are now catalogued as D. 899 and D. 935 and are considered among the most important examples of this popular early 19th-century genre.

Listen to 2013 finalist Eric Zuber’s performance of Op. 90 No. 3, in G-flat Major:


Three other unnamed piano compositions (D. 946) are known as both "Impromptus" and Klavierstücke. The works now known as the Drei Klavierstücke (“Three Piano Pieces") were conceived as a third set of four Impromptus. Only three were written in May 1828—just months before Schubert’s death from what historians attribute to the affects from Syphilis. Forty years later, these pieces were published with edits from composer Johannes Brahms.

These works are not performed as often as the D. 899 and D. 935 sets, but 2013 finalist Claire Huangci played Klavierstück No. 2 in E-flat Major in her Premiere Series performance:


While we can assuredly expect to hear more of Schubert’s lieder in future American Pianists Awards Song Recitals, here is hoping that we also hear the composer’s solo piano works again in future competitions.

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