Schubert was only 20 years old when he composed the song Die Forelle (The Trout). Two years later, when touring the Austrian countryside, Schubert met Sylvester Paumgartner; an enthusiastic – and very wealthy – amateur cellist, who encouraged the composer to write a chamber work based on the popular song. Schubert obliged, and the resulting work has since become one of the composer’s best-known pieces.
The song’s rippling sextuplet gure accompaniment appears throughout the quintet’s five movements, yet Schubert keeps his listeners in suspense until the fourth movement, where he indulges in a set of variations on the song’s original melody.
Unfortunately, Schubert over-estimated Paumgartner’s skill, and the piece was relegated to the shelf following an informal performance in which the cellist stumbled through the work with a group of friends in his living room. Finally published a year after the composer’s death, the Trout has since proved to have widespread audience appeal. As well as being much performed and recorded, it has been used as the soundtrack in a number of television shows and films. The music also weaves through the plot of An Equal Music, by writer Vikram Seth, where the bubbling surface melodies that disguise undercurrents of sorrow are a poignant allegory to the main character’s refusal to admit her encroaching deafness.