Only three of Franz Schubert's completed piano sonatas were published during his lifetime: the G major work of 1826 (D. 894) and the two sonatas composed during the spring and summer of 1825, D. 850 in D major and the Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845, sometimes called No. 16. The A minor Sonata was the first of the three to pass through a printing press, in early 1826, and the effect of its publication was quick and pronounced. Through the mid-1820s, Schubert had been known almost exclusively as a composer of lieder since those were by and large the only pieces of his that publishers cared to purchase. With the release of the A minor Piano Sonata, D. 845 Schubert was suddenly the darling of many critics, and some of his fellow musicians began to think of casting him in the unenviable role of Beethoven's successor.
The Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 845 stands as far from the sonatas composed during Schubert's teenage years as one might imagine. Something of the terse, granite-faced quality of the previous A minor Sonata (D. 784 of 1823) is present in the opening movement, Moderato, of D. 845, but now there is also a hint of the starry-eyed otherworldliness -- an absolute disdain for reality -- that mark the final sonatas of 1828 as things truly special. The limber main theme is given right at the start in bare octaves; the second theme, presented in part before we have even arrived at the second theme key area, is really a new spin on the opening idea. Throughout the development section and, later on, the lengthy coda to the movement, the music of the opening bars reappears at length.
The following movement, Andante poco moto, is an ingenious and technically demanding set of variations (five in all) on a theme. The Scherzo (Allegro vivace) contrasts a squat, rhythmic opening with a trio section that, while retaining the same basic metric framework, remolds it into a spinning pianissimo. The finale (Allegro vivace) is a rondo built around a lean main idea; there is no contrasting lyric material, only music that either scampers around or asserts itself with dramatic forzandos.