Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major D667, “Trout”

You often find the “Trout” Quintet among those lists of 100 greatest recordings or basic libraries. Schubert wrote this piece in 1819 while vacationing in upper Austria with a group of musicians. One of them, a wannabe cellist named Sylvester Paumgartner, at whose place they were staying, commissioned Schubert to write this quintet based on the melody of one of Schubert’s own songs, “The Trout.”

This song tells of how Schubert was once walking along by a beautiful stream when he spied a trout at play in the water. Schubert contemplates the beauty of the scene when an angler appears and starts fishing for the trout. Eventually the fisherman hooks the trout and Schubert is left lamenting his sad fate. The first movement of this works starts with a rolling, bubbly phrase, repeated by the piano, which perfectly captures the impression of the music.

I first heard this piece while living in the French House in my junior year of college, in 1975. I thought it was quite pretty. When I mentioned it to my girlfriend, Linda, who was majoring in string bass, she said something like “Ugh! That piece is so overplayed.” After that, for a long time, I did not bother to listen to it. Then, years later, after I was married, my wife heard it playing on the local classical station. Suddenly she started singing these words along to the famous melody:

As by a crystal brooklet,
I wandered on my way
Among the gentle ripples
I spied a trout at play
As here and there he darted
As swift as swift could be
Was never fish so lively
Nor frolicsome as he.
Was never fish so lively
Nor frolicsome as he.

But skillful was the angler
With cruel delight
He sullied all the crystal water
And hid the fish from sight
Alas, by that deception
The fish, the enticing bait, sought out
And I was left lamenting
The fate of that poor trout.
And I was left lamenting
The fate of that poor trout.

Here’s the entire piece:

It’s a very Romantic conceit to write an impassioned song about the death of a fish. Still, if you respect life, where do you draw the line between which beings are not okay to kill and which are?  The Jainists in India have carried this so far as to wear masks over their mouths lest they breath in microbes that their natural antibodies would destroy. That might sound absurd, but there is something dear about Schubert writing this piece and it’s definitely sweet to have it serenaded to you by a beautiful woman.

I originally wrote a version of this about 15 years ago.  Since then, that marriage went the way of Schubert’s trout.  Much water has flowed by.  Our kids have grown up and moved away.  We’re both remarried and have tried to remain friends.  Life is full of challenges, hurts, slights, setbacks, and sometimes we see these things as injustices.  The artist tries to make sense of all this, commenting on the struggles and pain that life sometimes brings.  Schubert juxtaposed the beauty of nature with the cruelty of man’s despoiling it.  And he turned it into this beautiful music.

Buy CD or Download MP3s of Schubert: Trout Quintet

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About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

5 Responses to Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A major D667, “Trout”

  1. XperDunn says:

    I enjoy this piece every time! My best recording of it was the soundtrack to “Barry Lyndon” (Kubrick)—which had a lot of contemporaneous works of similar beauty.

    Thanks for sharing

    Chris Dunn

    Like

  2. Margaret Travell says:

    I would love to find a cd of “The Trout”, sung in the English variation that you have noted above. Do you know of any? I learned this song many years ago and this is the only reference I have found on the internet.

    Like

    • kurtnemes says:

      Hi. I don’t know of any, however, I do know it exists. My ex-wife who is from England used to sign it to me.

      Like

      • Margaret Travell says:

        I am from Harrogate, Yorkshire, our headmaster would sing this song to us. I’m in a Brit’s group and we play a “game”, posting the first one, or two, words to a song that everyone has to guess which song it is. So when I posted “As by….”, nobody knew the answer!!! I was amazed, Which made me want to find a CD. I’m sure I must have heard it on the BBC radio sometime.

        Like

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