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):
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