Franz Schubert

String Quartet No. 14 ("Death and the Maiden")

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: Approx. 40 Minutes
Genre: String Quartet
Time of Creation: 1824
World Premiere: 01 February 1826 (private – Vienna)/March 1833 (public – posthumous – Berlin)

Table of Contents

Schubert's String Quartet No. 14 in 5 Sentences

Franz Schubert created his String Quartet No. 14, nicknamed “Death and the Maiden,” during a phase in which he wanted to “approach” the “grand” form of the symphony by composing chamber works (see also the quotation below). The chamber music works Schubert wrote during this phase are now called works of his “late phase” – which is kind of crazy when you consider that Schubert was only 27 years old at the time. But he died only four years later. Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 is dark in mood throughout, with variations on Schubert’s art song “Death and the Maiden” in the second movement, the text of which is based on a poem by Matthias Claudius. The eerily erotic motif of “Death and the Maiden,” in which Death appears as the seducer or lover of a young woman, has existed since the Renaissance.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Schubert's String Quartet No. 14

Highlight 1: Death breaks in (beginning)

Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden String Quartet” is one of the few pieces that sends a cold shiver down my spine for its entire duration. Already this beginning…there is no stone left unturned. Death breaks into the middle of life:

Highlight 2: "Rigid" theme in the second movement

The second movement consists of variations on a song Schubert had composed 7 years earlier. Notice how “rigid” this theme is. It is constantly composed of the same rhythmic pattern (loooong-short-short), known across music history as the “death rhythm:”

Highlight 3: Stirring third movement

After the “rigidity” in the second movement, the wildness in the third movement seems all the more contrasting:

Highlight 4: Restless fourth movement

The fourth movement is hectic, restless – almost like an escape:

3 Questions and Answers about Schubert's String Quartet No. 14

Question 1: What other chamber music works did Schubert create in 1824?

In addition to the String Quartet No. 14, Schubert composed an Octet and another String Quartet.

Question 2: Are there any arrangements of Schubert's String Quartet No. 14?

Yes, there is a very successful arrangement for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler.

Question 3: What other works are there on the motif "Death and the Maiden"?

In music, the motif is taken up, for example, in the “Songs and Dances of Death” by Modest Mussorgsky. The motif also plays a role in more recent music – for example in the musical “Elisabeth”. In the Renaissance, there were numerous paintings about “Death and the Maiden”, for example by Hans Baldung Grien and Hans Sebald Beham, and later mainly poems, for example by Matthias Claudius.

2 Recommended Recordings of Schubert's String Quartet No. 14

Recording 1: Tetzlaff Quartet (live, 2022)

This rousing performance is by the Tetzlaff Quartet:

Recording 2: Quatuor Akos (live, 2019)

I also enjoy listening to this energetic recording by Quatuor Akos:

1 Quote about Schubert's String Quartet No. 14

I have made few new songs, but I have tried my hand at several instrumental things, for I have composed 2 quartets for violins, viola and violoncello and an Octet, and I still want to write a Quartetto; in general, I want to pave my way to the great symphony in this way.

Franz Schubert in a letter of March 31, 1824 to his friend Leopold Kupelwieser

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