Franz Schubert

Trout Quintet

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

Duration: 35–40 Minutes
Genre: Quintet
Time of Creation: 1819
World Premiere: Unknown

Table of Contents

Schubert's Trout Quintet in 5 Sentences

Franz Schubert composed the Trout Quintet as a commissioned work for the civil servant and amateur cellist Sylvester Paumgartner, who expressed two wishes in this context: first, Schubert should orient himself in the composition on the Septet op. 74 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and second, he should adapt his own song “The Trout” in the quintet. Paumgartner’s first wish resulted in the Trout Quintet featuring the instrumentation of piano, violin, viola, violoncello and double bass, which seems unusual today (but was common at the time); his second wish earned the composition its nickname. Schubert’s Trout Quintet is a cheerful, bright piece. Schubert achieves this character through a certain technical finesse (see the “Highlights” below).

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

4 Highlights from Schubert's Trout Quintet

Highlight 1: How Schubert composes brightness

The Trout Quintet is known for its bright sound, which Schubert achieves with a particular technique: he has the piano play predominantly in octaves and has the strings “fill in” the harmonies. Added to this is the choice of the key of A major, which was considered a particularly bright key in Schubert’s day (Beethoven’s brightest symphony – Symphony No. 7 – is also in A major). Both lead to that brilliant sound that can be heard well right at the beginning:

Highlight 2: stark transitions

In the second movement, Schubert combines three keys that are very far apart. Accordingly, the transitions sometimes seem stark. This even becomes characteristic in Schubert’s late work. An example:

Highlight 3: Variations on the Trout

The fourth movement is the most famous movement of Schubert’s Trout Quintet, for here there are a total of five variations on Schubert’s song “The Trout.” In the fifth variation it is also clearly noticeable that Schubert’s client was an amateur cellist – the cello is allowed to shine there as a soloist:

Highlight 4: A dance as a connecting element

It is often said that the last movement of Schubert’s Trout Quintet is unnecessary – with the Trout Variations everything is said already. Well, that is not quite true. The fact is that the last movement begins with a German Dance, and this, TOGETHER with the variations, results in a combination that was very popular in Schubert’s day: the song (here: the Trout Variations) is followed by a dance (here: the German Dance at the beginning of the last movement). The dance is thus a unifying element and provides the transition to the finale:

3 Questions and Answers about Schubert's Trout Quintet

Question 1: Why is the Trout Quintet called like this?

Schubert’s Trout Quintet is called like this because in it Schubert wrote variations on his song “The Trout”.

Question 2: Who was Sylvester Paumgartner?

Sylvester Paumgartner was a merchant and patron of the arts from Steyr in Upper Austria. He often held musical evenings in the salon of his house. Schubert was a welcome guest there and also lived with Paumgartner for a while. Sylvester Paumgartner was the commissioner of Schubert’s Trout Quintet.

Question 3: When was the Schubert song "The Trout" written?

Schubert wrote the song “The Trout” in 1816/17, about two years before the Trout Quintet.

2 Recommended Recordings of Schubert's Trout Quintet

Recording 1: Hannah Cho, Samuel Mittag, Benedikt Sinko, Hana Jeong, Maximilian Flieder (video production, 2022)

This recording features members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Academy:

Recording 2: Anne-Sophie Mutter, Daniil Trifonov, Hwayoon Lee, Maximilian Hornung, Roman Patkoló (Studio, 2017)

This features Anne-Sophie Mutter and Daniil Trifonov, among others, as chamber musicians – a quintet doesn’t get much more prominent than this:

1 Quote about Schubert's Trout Quintet

According to his [Paumgartner's] wish, the quintuor had to preserve the structure and instrumentation of Hummel's quintet, recte septuor, which was still new at that time.

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