I ♥ SCHUBERT!

Today BBC Radio Three began a week-long Schubert-fest, called ‘The Spirit of Schubert’, to mark the 215th anniversary of Franz Peter Schubert’s birth. The season will attempt to get inside the music and mind of the man in c200 hours of continuous broadcasting. Live concerts, discussions, requests, a ‘Schubert Salon’ and ‘Schubert Lab’, this will surely be a “must” for Schubert fans and anyone who wants to explore his music further.

His music remains perennially popular, from the sunny, holiday moods evoked in the ‘Trout’ Quintet, to the serene beauty of ‘Ave Maria’, through the symphonies and string quartets, to the late works for piano and the great song cycle ‘Winterreise’. His music spins the agony of his desire, yet at every turn he draws back from the void, and surprises us with warm melodic lines, striking harmonic shifts, rich textures, dances and songs. There is sunshine, as well as darkness, in Schubert’s music.

For me there does not have to be a specific anniversary or reason to play or listen to Schubert’s music. I have loved and lived with his music all my life: as a young child hearing my father play Der Hirt Auf Dem Felsem (‘The Shepherd on the Rock’) on the clarinet, my own LP of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, my first encounters with the ‘Impromptus’ for piano in my mid-teens, as a precocious, know-it-all student who could play the notes, but who understood little of where this music came from.

On my iPod I have a playlist called ‘Schubert Favourites’ – not some naff compilation torn from the front of ClassicFM magazine, but my own selection of my most favourite pieces of his music. One of my piano students, Ben, regularly asks me “Who’s your favourite composer, Fran?”, to which I always reply “Beethoven”(Beethoven is Ben’s favourite composer too!). I love Beethoven – for his wit and humour, his mercurial mood swings, and his sheer weirdness and unpredictably in his later works.  But I love Schubert too, though I find it hard to put my finger on exactly why I love his music so much. Maybe because it encompasses so much: the grandeur of Beethoven, a swooning romance which looks forward to Liszt, and beyond, the tenderness of Chopin at his most introspective and intimate?

From my Schubert Favourites list (in no particular order):

Impromptu No. 4 in A-flat Major. Allegretto

Der Hirt Auf Dem Felsen D. 965 (Op. 129)

Notturno

Fantasie in F minor D940 : I Allegro molto moderato

Quartettsatz in C Minor, D.703

Trout Quintet: Scherzo

Fantasy In C Major, D. 605a, “Grazer Fantasie”: I. Moderato Con Espressione

Piano Sonata No.21 in B flat, D.960 – 1. Molto moderato

Schubert: 3 Klavierstücke, D.946 – No.3 in C (Allegro)

Schubert links:

Spirit of Schubert on BBC Radio Three

Schubert’s Glasses

Schubert is needed now more than ever – article by Roger Scruton

Why Schubert? – article by Jessica Duchen

Schubert memorials in Vienna

Why Schubert’s music holds us in thrall – article by Ivan Hewett

Tenor Ian Bostridge in an excerpt from the film of ‘Winterreise’ by David Alden

3 Comments

  1. Schubert is an absolute marvel. For me, he is number 2 in the league of composers, not far behind JSB, and ahead of two other great Viennese composers who come to mind. The inexhaustible streams of melody, the extraordinary expressive harmony in the use of major/minor shifts, hitherto unexplored chords, harmonic progressions and modulations, all imbued with some special quality impossible to analyse, are little short of miraculous. The only problem I am finding with the BBC’s week of “total immersion” is that the rest of mundane day to day life has come to a standstill, so difficult is it to leave the radio. They have just played (Sunday 25th March, about 9pm) “An den Mond in einer Herbtsnacht” (“To the Moon on an Autumn Night”), D614, sung by Christine Schafer with pianist Erich Schneider. This is not a song we hear that often, perhaps because it requires supreme musicianship to convey it properly to the listener, but it is music which is utterly spellbinding, and I would urge anybody who did not hear it to listen to it on the iPlayer or, better still, in Sarah Walker’s superbly sensitive performance with Graham Johnson on Hyperion’s Complete Schubert Edition of the lieder on disc. If I had to pick just two Schubert pieces to take to my desert island, this would be one of them. The other would be the last (no 6) of the Moments Musicaux.

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