New perspectives (1817-March 1821)
Schubert's decision to move to the inner city in the autumn of 1816 amounted to a declaration of faith in his own destiny as a composer. For the second time (the renunciation of the Meerfeld Endowment being the first), he had declined to take the prudent course, preferring to trust his own instinct and his own genius. Whatever we may think about Schober's morals, or his lack of them, it is to his credit that in Schubert's hour of need he opened up a way of escape from the schoolroom. But the risks involved were considerable. Schubert was proposing to support himself as a freelance composer in a world which knew nothing of such a species. The normal road to fame then lay through success in the concert hall as a virtuoso artist, or as the servant of a wealthy patron, or by serving a long apprenticeship in the opera house or the church. The first two solutions were ruled out for Schubert, the first by his own temperament and abilities, the second by the economic and social revolution which was proceeding apace. As for the third, though Vienna remained one of the great operatic centres of the world, Schubert had yet to show whether he had the flair, the influence, and the luck, to succeed.
On the other hand, the same social changes which had destroyed the sources of aristocratic patronage had created a vast new source of patronage among the professional and mercantile classes. In particular, they had created a rapidly growing demand for domestic music, for songs and piano music, both of which Schubert was well able to provide. It should not surprise us, therefore, that his main instrumental concern in 1817 seems to have been the piano sonata. What he was aiming at, to judge from the somewhat confused attempts at numbering his various finished and unfinished sonatas, was a saleable opus of three works comparable, say, with Beethoven's Op. 10 set. But that was not to be achieved until the last year of his life. In the meantime his task was to find his own voice, to adapt the conventional form of the sonata to his own mode of expression.
The story begins in 1815, when he composed a sonata in E major, D157, and one in C, D279, but failed to write a finale for either. Several fragmentary sketches survive from 1816, including five which were earlier supposed to belong together as a 'sonata in mixed keys' D459.