The Music Plays On — Schubert Impromptus, D. 899 & D. 935

Donato Cabrera
3 min readMay 4, 2020
Franz Schubert

Franz Schubert (1797–1828) wrote a series of eight solo pieces in 1827, two of which were published in his lifetime, with all eight eventually being published as two sets of four impromptus after Schubert’s death. I find it interesting that it was Schubert’s publisher that gave the name impromptu to all eight pieces, not him.

Before I continue, don’t get confused by the two different cataloguing numbers that you’ll see with Schubert’s works. They were first published with “opus numbers,” in the 19th century and then re-catalogued in the mid-twentieth century by the musicologist, Otto Erich Deutsch. So, the first set is Opus 90 and D(eutsch) 899, and the second set is Opus 142 and D(eutsch) 935.

The name, “impromptu,” is as it suggests. These pieces are free-formed works that have no relationship to each other and don’t necessarily follow a strict compositional structure. They are like four miniature drawings that were drawn at the same time but have completely different subject matter, or four small vignettes of completely different characters performed by the same actor.

Schubert was greatly impressed by the impromptus of the Bohemian composer and pianist, Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek, who wrote a series of them beginning in 1817. In fact, it looks like Voříšek, or his publisher, may have coined the…