Composers from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical:
This is from Amazon.com's Get Started in Classical.
List of Composers
Schubert's musical genius went well beyond his incomparable gift
During Beethoven's funeral in 1827, one of the
torchbearers was a young composer who would himself
die the following year. There's a poignant irony in this
image of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) paying homage to
the master, for the extent of Schubert's own
accomplishment was to remain one of music's best-kept secrets for
decades after his death. He had indeed struck out on a uniquely personal
creative path, however intense his hero worship of Beethoven was. As
often happens in such periods of transition--in this case, the evolution in
style and attitude from classical balance toward romantic
experimentation--Schubert simply slipped through the cracks, not easily
fitting into his contemporaries' sense of the direction music was taking.
Yet the fact that the only recognition that came his way was mostly
confined to a tight-knit circle of musical friends didn't deter Schubert
from pursuing his inspiration. Even though an astonishing number of compositions were never
performed during his short lifetime, the prolific composer produced a wide body of material, all with
a seemingly effortless swiftness reminiscent of Mozart (another of the composer's idols). His style is
most frequently associated with an uncanny gift for melody, but that's a shortsighted view of the true
nature of Schubert's genius.
The selections on our featured disc represent two key but divergent aspects of his music: the
gemlike miniaturism of his songwriting and his preoccupation with large-scale forms from the
classical period. "Die Forelle" ("The Trout")--sung here with a silvery, seductive grace by Barbara
Bonney--is an example of how Schubert elevated the art of song to an opera in miniature, rich in
evocative scene-painting. Pay attention not just to the beguiling melody but to how perfectly
Schubert mirrors the text's images in the details of the burbling piano accompaniment.
The cheerful quintet that takes its name from the song makes an excellent introduction to the
composer's longer works. Most of these belong to the realm of "chamber music"; that is, pieces
written for small groups of musicians to be performed in people's homes. From the high-spirited
interplay of the ensemble gathered here--all virtuosos on their respective instruments but clearly
merging their voices into a common goal--it's easy to imagine a typical evening of Schubert making
music with his friends. There's a flowing sense of conversation in the music, and just as you think
you've heard one untoppable melody, Schubert obliges with another, taking it down an unexpected
course with a sudden harmonic surprise--another of the composer's trademarks--and spinning it out
as it suits his fancy. Schumann once characterized the composer's tendency to make us want the
music to last, following its multiple digressions, as Schubert's "heavenly lengths."
Much of the pleasure here can also be heard in the way Schubert plays sonorities off each other,
above all in the fourth movement. It offers a set of variations on the melody from the "Trout" song,
presaging how Mahler would later incorporate material from his own songs into vast symphonic
structures. You can notice this both in the interwoven yet contrasting timbres from the keyboard
against four strings and in the opposition between double bass and sparkling passages high in the
register. And within the spontaneity of the moment, there's something else: emerging within all the
joie de vivre are ambivalent shadows hinting at Schubert's darker side, particularly in the intensity of
the slow movement's middle core. This is also apparent in the opening of the "Arpeggione" Sonata
(nicknamed after a short-lived invention that was a sort of cross between a guitar and a cello),
which unfolds a kind of aching, spun-out lyricism that could belong to no one but Schubert.
In his final decade, when intense poverty and a debilitating case of syphilis began to take their toll,
Schubert would mine this vein of profound self-expression. His last quartets and piano sonatas, the
String Quintet, and his despairing song cycle Winterreise, he touches in his own way on the
inwardness probed by Beethoven's late-period creations.
Thomas May, Classical Editor
More Schubert can be found in Musical Information and Recommendations for Adults.
O'Connor Music Studio Recommendations
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