The Vienna apartment where Franz Schubert was born in 1797-the twelfth of fourteen children, and only the fourth to survive infancy-is almost unbearably moving. The two tiny rooms and open hearth near the front door for cooking and heating are mute testimony to the grim poverty of his origins. A mere thirty-one years later, the composer died in his older brother Ferdinand's somewhat larger apartment, where a narrow, closet-like space served as bedroom and studio during Schubert's last months. A small display case contains his signature glasses, the oval metal-rimmed spectacles so familiar from most of his portraits, one of which hangs nearby. His last letter is there, in which he tells his friend Franz von Schober, "I am ill. I have eaten nothing for 11 days and drunk nothing, and I totter feebly and shakily from my chair to my bed and back again..." and yet, the dying man asked for more books by James Fennimore Cooper. I found the scene painful to contemplate, especially the document listing his estate: '. . . 4 shirts, 9 cravats and pocket handkerchiefs, 13 pairs of socks, 1 towel, 1 sheet, 1 mattress . . . a quantity of old music . . . .' These homely details make Schubert more immediate, in the same way that seeing the dry scratch marks on the paper of one of his manuscripts brought him to life in my imagination. He made corrections by using a dry pen nib to scrape away the ink and some of the underlying paper, and I saw them at the Morgan Library in New York when I held his score in my hands. This sad history often summons dark metaphors when I listen to and play Schubert's music. The stark opening of Schubert's A minor Sonata, for example-an un-harmonized melody in half notes-seems to create a barren landscape, a terrain also delineated in many of his most despairing songs. Although the sonata is compact and less discursive than many of Schubert's piano works, it offers a wide scope of emotion and dramatic event created by sharp contrasts and a big dynamic range. In the development of the first movement, for example, the whispering theme suddenly opens up into powerful chords in the right hand, accompanied by brilliant octaves in the left hand. The slow movement, which begins modestly and songfully, also erupts in violent outbursts. The mood throughout the work is mostly tragic, but there are a few moments of consolation, in particular in the last movement, where the closing theme introduces a lullaby-like melody accompanied by a rocking motion in the bass. The sonata was written in 1823 and published by Diabelli in 1828, with a dedication to Felix Mendelssohn. My fascination with Schubert and his music began with a recording of his Unfinished Symphony, conducted by Toscanini, which I listened to again and again when I was about seven. By the time I was a teenager I had played a few of the Ländler and other simple pieces, but the first major Schubert piece I tackled, at summer music camp, was not a solo piece but the Trio in E-flat major. The next summer I played the other one, in B-flat major, and for me they served as valuable introductions to Schubert's mature style. Both trios date from Schubert's last year, 1828, and one of them was premiered during the only full-length public recital of his music to take place during his lifetime, on March 26 of that year. The B-flat Sonata, also completed in 1828, bears some resemblances to the Trio that shares it's tonality. At turns expansive, lyrical, noble and playful, both are masterpieces without pretensions or formality. Alfred Brendel, writing about Schubert's last three sonatas, considers the B-flat Sonata to be "the most beautiful and moving, the most resigned and harmoniously balanced, tallying most easily with the concept of a gently melancholic Schubert." The opening statement is indeed serene and gentle, presented in octave chords and a quarter-note rhythm. As the right hand sustains the final chord of the phrase, the left hand reaches lower into the bass and trills quietly but ominously on a G-flat, before resolving and resting briefly on an F. This rumbling G-flat in the bass is the clue to a drama of key relationships that Schubert works out during the first movement, using the G-flat as the pivot for some dramatic modulations. The drama continues in the second movement, which begins with a trudging figure, originating in the left hand and crossing over the slow-moving melody in the right hand, as if a traveler were struggling through deep snow. Time seems to have stopped, until, after two pages of halting progress, there is a one-note transition to a more optimistic and energetic second theme, in A major. Hope seems restored, until the bleakness of the opening returns-despair that is only partly ameliorated by the final phrases. After plumbing this depth of sorrow, the sonata's final two movements are more light-hearted and full of delight: child-like scampering, puckish accents and an abundance of themes, some of them related to the Turkish march. Just a few decades after Mozart used such marches to great effect in his operas and piano music, they were still popular in Schubert's Vienna. The Rondo finale has the same sunny élan as the final movement of Schubert's much-loved "Trout" Quintet for piano and strings, and seems to recall happier times, when he roamed the countryside with his friends. The sonata was completed sometime between March and September, 1828. Schubert died two months later, from typhoid fever and complications of syphilis. He did not leave 'a quantity of old music,' but a miraculous outpouring of notes so transcendent that they banish with their beauty the cruel deprivation of his too, too short life. -- Diane Walsh 'Diane Walsh, an underrated pianist (even after her Broadway stint in "33 Variations"), plays an underrated Schubert work, the smaller of the A minor sonatas, a personal favorite. The first movement's second theme is one of Schubert's most melting inspirations even before he sweetens it with triplets in the recapitulation. Ms. Walsh plays it beautifully and gives a fine account of the posthumous B flat Sonata, which is rated right about where it should be: at the top.' James R. Oestreich, New York Times, November 26, 2010 'Schubert poured his life into his music, as can partly be heard in these transcendent works. The A-minor Sonata, Op. 143, D. 784, reflects the composer's mood changes in music of fierce and serene beauty. Similar angst pervades the Sonata in B-flat major, published posthumously, though wit and delight also abound. Diane Walsh plays both scores with supreme command of phrasing, dynamics and structure. Her performances take the listener deeply into Schubert's uniquely poetic world. Grade: A' Donald Rosenberg, Cleveland.com, November 14, 2010.