Schubert was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy when he wrote this stunning quartet, which combines youthful joie de vivre with intense work on the classical style. One commentator has described these teenage works as exercise quartets, where Schubert was building up experience and expertise. To a certain extent this may have been the case but the immediate motivation was much more likely to have been the need for a new work for the family quartet made up of his two brothers, himself and his father.
The opening Allegro bursts into life with its powerful motto-theme that goes on to dominate the movement in any number of variants. Learning from his great predecessors he proceeds to build an entire movement from this simple theme. A striking instrumental effect can be found in the development where the running semi-quavers are transformed into a circling ostinato-like moto perpetuo in the viola to which in turn is added first violin, second violin and cello.
Schubert rewrote the Andante several times before he was happy. It is the heart of the work in which broken phrases are held together by longer lyrical spans reminiscent of Mozart. The central section explores darker sonorities and distant keys, a foretaste of more dramatic explorations in his mature works. The Minuet is built around another motto-like theme, while the trio is a distant but elegant dance after which the main section seems very ponderous. Schubert’s early quartets have a tendency sometimes to blur the distinction between orchestral and chamber style as in this boisterous finale that trades subtlety for a rousing conclusion.