Sonata "Per Arpeggione" in A Minor

arpviola.nwcAugust 200329.88 kB00:24:06
Composer:Schubert, Franz (1797-1828), Austrian
Genre:Classical, Chamber.
Instruments:piano, viola (orig. arpeggione)
Submitter:Nachbaur, Fred and Coulon, J-P
Email:fnachbaur (e-mail)
Link: About the original instrumentation.
Link2: Midi version
Originally for an odd cross between 'cello and guitar. Re-octavised for viola. Piano part as per Schubert's original.
Midifile on "instruments" line has been tempered 09/27/99 using the "Werkmeister" temperament.
This NoteWorthy file uses a non standard font. This can be obtained as follows:
Boxmarks - Scriptorium download at
Franz Schubert
Sonata in A Minor "Per Arpeggione"
The "Guitarre d’amour" was invented in 1821 by Johann Georg Stauffer (1778-1853). About the
size of a ‘cello, this instrument had a fretted fingerboard and six strings, tuned the same as
the guitar (E A D G B E). It later became known as the "Arpeggione," because of its facility
with guitar-like arpeggiations.
Due to a number of technical problems, the Arpeggione never became popular, and suffered a
rapid obsolescence. Its guitar-shaped body made it awkward to hold, and it was difficult to
play loudly on a single string because of the low curvature imposed by its many strings. In
fact, the sonata presented here is probably the only significant work written specifically for
this unusual instrument.
Schubert wrote this piece in 1824, and the care taken to suit the music to the instrument is
quite apparent. It can be noted that rarely are dynamics stronger than "p" indicated,
especially in fast passages. He made good use of the instrument’s arpeggiating abilities, and
wrote the music to show off the arpegionne’s extensive range.
The fact that the music has outlived the instrument by some two centuries is a tribute to
Schubert’s genius for memorable melodies. It is sometimes used as a showpiece by exceptional
‘cello players, as only the most capable virtuosi can reach the impossibly high places. Even
on viola the higher ranges are difficult, and the lower registers (below open C) are of course
Nonetheless, the piece lends itself ideally to the tonality of the viola. In this arrangement,
I have relied heavily on the assistance of Jean-Pierre Coulon. The low ranges had to be
re-octavised to fall within the range of the viola. For the high parts, I have opted to re-
octavise a few passages to make the piece more accessible to amateur and semi-professional
players. The octave on the A string was taken as the practical limit.
Regarding bowings - Schubert’s bowings for the arpeggione are of course of limited use, but do
give an idea of the phrasing. Since I am not myself a violist, I have deferred to the bowings
offered in the edition by Paul Doktor. Still, the player is encouraged to take these with a
grain of salt, and to work out for him- or herself bowings and phrasing that are appropriate
to one’s individual style and capacities. Similarly, the dynamics indications are best taken
as suggested starting points. As implied earlier, had the piece been written for other bowed
instruments, it would have probably had a lot more mf, f, and ff markings.
Tempo indications in the original are sketchy, and in several places ambiguous. The markings
shown (and reflected in the demo midi file) are my own interpretation, largely influenced by a
wonderful midi created by John Cowles.
A note on the passage starting at bar 330, and similar passages later in the piece. The
recommended way to play this is to double-stop the C and G strings, playing the A on the
G-string as a "drone." This gives an interesting "fiddle" effect and is easier than negotiating
the shifts if the section is played on adjacent strings in 3rd position.
Special thanks to Werner Icking of GMD for his encouragement, and to Jean-Pierre Coulon for
his welcome collaboration.
Fred Nachbaur, January 1999
e-mail address: fnachbaur (e-mail)
Addendum Sept. 99: The midi file arpviola.mid has been "tempered" using the warm-sounding
"Werkmeister" temperament. Piano part tempered using "Piano-Tuner", viola part using