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Transcript of a pre-concert talk by Ian Lace
together with appropriate CD reviews


The text of a Pre-Concert Talk given at the Hawth, Crawley on Sunday January 16th 2000 by Ian Lace with a review of the recordings used as illustrations. Although it is indicated in this article where recorded illustrations were used in that talk it is not our policy to put sound clips on this site because of copyright and performing rights restrictions.

This file contains:
A transcription of the pre-concert talk
A short recommended reading list.
Reviews of the recordings

The Pre-Concert Talk

Among the greatest 19th Century composers, Franz Schubert is the only one whose lifetime fame was significantly at odds with his later glory. His shyness and disregard for self-promotion, his lack of virtuosity as a performer, the scarcity of his own letters and writings, his untimely death - all these factors, and more, help to explain why he eluded biographers and why a full appreciation of his music was delayed for so long after his death. Slowly through the 19th century, and significantly in the 20th century, his immense output began to be fully appreciated. Pre-eminent in this process was Otto Eric Deutsch who worked in Vienna and wrote significant books on Schubert in 1904 and 1914. But Deutsch's major work for Schubert was in cataloguing his works and giving them the D numbers we recognise today.

Let us pause at this point to consider the importance for Vienna as the centre of European music during Schubert's lifetime and before - and, for a considerable period after his death. Vienna was the centre of the huge and powerful Hapsburg empire; it is therefore not surprising that composers were drawn by its cultural allure to seek patronage, to secure commissions and, of course, to promote performances of their music.

You will recall that the Baroque period in music was from about 1600 to 1759 and included the music of Bach and Handel. If we consider the classical period that followed, then that includes the works of Gluck, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven - all of whom were drawn to Vienna.

Gluck first went to Vienna in 1735, and was appointed opera Kapellmeister to the Court Theatre in 1854. Gluck lived in Vienna in high style but died in 1787 defying his doctor by drinking a post-prandial liqueur.

Haydn lived from 1732 to 1809. He arrived in Vienna as an 8 year-old choirboy but much of his career was spent in Hungary (30 years) and elsewhere in Europe (he was particularly lionised in England). In the early 1780s, he befriended Mozart and from then on their works betray a mutual influence. In 1791 Haydn settled in Vienna and accepted Beethoven as a pupil - not surprisingly, given Beethoven's volatile temperament, it was an uneasy relationship.

Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 and visited Vienna as a 6 year-old child prodigy in 1762. After many visits to the capital, and disagreements with his patron in Salzburg, Mozart settled in Vienna after marrying Constanze Weber in August 1782. The last nine years of his life in Vienna were a mix of financial troubles and an outpouring of masterpieces in almost every genre. He died in the City in 1791.

Two years earlier in July 1789, the Bastille was stormed in Paris signalling the Revolution and afterwards, the rise of Napoleon from whom Austria suffered a particularly ignominious defeat at Austerlitz. As a consequence, by the 1820s, Vienna was a dangerous place to live, so much so that its citizens looked back with nostalgia to the golden days of the reign of Joseph II from 1780 to 1790 and delighted in revivals of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Vienna had grown tremendously for agricultural mechanisation had forced peasants into the towns and Vienna's population was burgeoning. However, there was severe overcrowding with little space between houses and the sanitation was appalling. Schubert was one of 14 children, many of whom never survived to adulthood and the fact that he died at the early age of 31 was not at all unusual. Added to all these hazards, was an oppressive regime - there was heavy censorship and spies everywhere. The ever-present threat of further revolution all over the Empire caused paranoia amongst the establishment, from the Emperor and Metternich downwards. Schubert himself was once arrested. Yet despite all this gloom, there was a growing articulate professional class hungry for music and literature.

The other musical giant who lived and worked in Vienna was of course Beethoven. He moved to the City from Bonn in 1795. Beethoven lived from 1770 to 1827 and was therefore practically contemporaneous with Schubert who died the year after Beethoven in 1828. Schubert was actually a torch-bearer at Beethoven's funeral. Not surprisingly, during their lifetimes, Beethoven overshadowed his contemporary. Beethoven's music was very bold and assertive whereas that of Schubert tended to be more refined and subtle.

Unlike Gluck, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert was a local boy, born in Vienna, the son of an impoverished schoolmaster, who was his first teacher. He became a pupil of Salieri (yes, the same Salieri associated with Mozart) for theory in 1812.

Schubert earned his fame through his songs and dances, and smaller pieces. He first came to prominence in 1814 with one of his two greatest songs, Gretchen am Spinnrade a setting of Goethe's poem. In 1815, Schubert composed 144 songs including 8 in one day. He would scribble them on the backs of menus in the Viennese coffee houses that he frequented with his ever-widening circle of friends. It was they who were mainly responsible for promoting his music. From 1821 we have the first account of the Schubertiades where Schubert played and sang and a lot of punch was drunk. Such gatherings, dedicated to high art and high spirits were to be a feature of the next few years as Schubert's reputation spread and his circle of acquaintances was enlarged. It was in 1821, too, that his other great song masterpiece, Erlkõnig was the first to be published. But we will leave the songs there for a moment and pause for some music.

We move forward to 1823. We now turn the telescope the other way round for a while to concentrate on that fateful year. It was a year when ill-health began to trouble Schubert, the beginnings of the syphilis that would take him to the grave. But it was also the year he composed one of his greatest song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and the incidental music for Rosamunde, the Overture to which we are to hear tonight. Let's just remind ourselves of three or four of the lovely melodies from the Overture and note their lyricism. Also note that all Schubert's music even the happiest has a tinge of sadness

Excerpt 1 Three short thematic excerpts from Schubert's Overture: Rosamunde.

Music from the Overture to Rosamunde played on that recording by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Kempe. Schubert was dogged with ill luck when it came to his operas and works for the stage they all failed - even the Rosamunde music at first; not surprisingly, the play itself was rather abysmal.

Schubert's output was huge but like many other composers before him and after, he often eased his load by self-quotation in other works - and he did not hesitate to quarry from his Rosamunde music. One of his songs, Der Vollmond Strahlt, written that same year, 1823, borrows from Rosamunde. Its words begin, 'The full moon beams on the mountain tops: How I have missed you.' It is a gentle love song - part nocturne, part lullaby. There is an engaging touch of naïvety about its gently rocking rhythms and a conscious pastoral evocation. In the play Princess Rosamunde has been brought up as a shepherdess (through some fancy of her father's) and in the middle of some protracted melodrama involving her regaining her throne, she escapes to Axa, her old protector, who sings her this song.

Excerpt 2 Arleen Auger singing Der Vollmond Strahlt accompanied by Graham Johnson on the Hyperion Schubert Edition Vol 9

Roughly 630 of Schubert's songs survive. By the end of 1828, nearly 190 were published and many others circulated in hand-written copies. Schubert and his friends proved remarkably astute in choosing which ones to disseminate, perform and publish. Interestingly, the songs that were available and best known to his contemporaries, generally remain the most prominent today.

With Schubert, Romantic Lied gained stature. Along with a heightened literary awareness, came the Romantic cultivation of small-scale forms in general, the rise of middle-class musical culture and domestic music making, and the new tonal qualities and technical capacities of the piano. Accompaniments of a new intensity and dramatic power were now possible. Schubert was also adding something new to the Lied. He had a penchant for extreme harmonic contrast. He included sudden, seemingly unprepared modulations and unexpected relationships signalling shifts in mood. As Christopher H. Gibbs comments in his introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Schubert, Schubert was reinventing the form of the song in order to expand its communicative vocabulary.

Another segment of the Rosamunde incidental music is the lovely song that is heard in Entr'Act No. 3 in B flat major. This was further used by Schubert in his A minor String Quartet of 1824. First let's hear the melody from Rosamunde and then something of the way Schubert uses this material in the Andante of the String Quartet. Notice, there, how disturbingly, this happy and innocent melody is transformed in an ensuing contrapuntal furore.

Excerpts - 3) Entr'Act No 3 in B flat major (Rosamunde); the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Kempe.

4) Andante from Schubert's String Quartet in A minor played by the Brandis Quartett on a 3CD Nimbus set devoted to Schubert's 'Late Chamber Music for Strings'.

Now let's briefly consider Schubert's orchestral accomplishments. As we know he wrote nine symphonies, if we include what was referred to as No. 7 in E major composed in 1821 but left unscored. [But see the comments about re-numbering in the Harnoncourt Complete Schubert Symphonies set in the Reviews section below.] The most celebrated of these symphonies are, of course, the 'Unfinished' and the 'Great' C Major. Schubert's first six symphonies were composed between 1813 and 1818. It is a sad comment on the indifference of the nineteenth century to Schubert's orchestral works that none of these early symphonies were published until the 1880s and that it was not until this century that they were able to command a regular place in the repertory. Until 1816, Schubert was content to work within the limits of the classical language and (songs apart) with classical forms. His Symphony No. 5, composed in 1815 bears in every bar the stamp of his own lyrical genius while the spirit of Mozart breathes benignly over it. It is the sunniest of all Schubert's symphonies. Let's hear a little of the opening movement.

Excerpt 5 - First Movement of Symphony No. 5 in B flat

Sir Thomas Beecham, a great champion of Schubert, conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in that performance of Schubert's Symphony No. 5 in B flat.

After 1818, Schubert's work shows a new philosophical depth, and recognisably romantic themes - all very evident in the Unfinished and Great C Major symphonies. But let's remind ourselves of the distinction between the classical and romantic styles in music.

The classical music of Mozart and Haydn, for instance, was absolute - that is without a programme unlike Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony of 1812 that was a sound picture of happenings in the countryside. The 'Pastoral' Symphony was generally regarded as marking the beginning of the Romantic movement. But the truth is the boundaries were blurred, not so clear cut. Composers had, for some considerable time, been using the inspiration of stories, pictures, poems etc to help them write their chamber, instrumental and symphonic writings - but they never admitted it.

Now, for his Unfinished Symphony Schubert had very definite images in mind and very disturbing they were too. When Schubert was about 15 years old his father repeatedly forbade him to compose and when this was to no avail, he drove him away (Schubert was a boarder at the Imperial Choir School). He was thus deprived of a last opportunity to see his mother who fell ill and died during his banishment. This experience was exceedingly traumatic and caused Schubert allegorical dreams or nightmares that were played out in his Unfinished Symphony. Schubert has given us the detail of these dreams. In broad outline, he relates how his father had led him to a feast and commanded him to enjoy it. When Schubert was unable to do so, his father became angry and drove him away. Schubert had to wonder for a long time in distant lands to return only for his mother's funeral. "For many years, I felt immense grief and pain, and immense love, tear me apart", he said. The dream recurred except that Schubert was invited into a beautiful garden instead of to a feast. Again he could not enjoy it and once more he was outcast. In another part of his dream he heard of the death of a gentle maiden. Reaching her grave he noticed a ring of mourners around it but he was forbidden to join them unless a miracle occurred. Suddenly 'the gravestone seemed to send forth heavenly thoughts like fine sparks upon the youth, producing a gentle sound. He walked to the graveside and was admitted into the company and felt eternal bliss. He was also reconciled with his father. The two movements of the symphony correspond to the two parts of this dream narrative

In the first movement, we can plainly hear the anger of his father and the affection Schubert felt for his family. This music leaves behind the decorative sound world of Mozart. In this dramatic excerpt there is much more of the granite quality we would associate with Beethoven

Excerpt 6 Schubert's Unfinished Symphony played by the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Part of the first movement of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony written in 1822, the year before Rosamunde. Schubert wrote the two movements plus 130 bars of a scherzo, then he abandoned the work because he realised the scherzo was unnecessary and the work was complete in its two movements - in reality two parts. It was finished. It only got its reputation as being unfinished because people were expecting the usual four symphonic movements. So Schubert was really ahead of his time. Nobody today would worry if a composer turned in a two-movement work.

After Schubert, Vienna continued to draw composers and musicians throughout the 19th Century and into the 20th. Brahms, the waltz Strauss, Bruckner, Mahler, Richard Strauss, the atonal progressives such as Schoenberg and the traditionalists like Korngold. The latter two had to flee Vienna when the Nazis arrived. Their predicament and World War II pretty well sounded the death knell of the City as a major force in music.

But Schubert today ranks among the very greatest of composers in all forms except operas and concertos (of which he wrote none).


Recommended Reading:

The Cambridge Companion to Schubert - a series of essays edited by Christopher H. Gibbs. 340 pp. Cambridge University Press 1997 (Available in paperback).

Amazon UK £13.77   Amazon US $21.95

Schubert by John Reed - in The Master Musicians Series. 320 pp. Westbridge Books. 1987.

Amazon UK £21.95  Amazon US  $35

Schubert's Songs by Richard Capell 292 pp Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd (first published in 1928)

Out of Print


The Recordings with Reviews:

Click on thumbnail for review

Collection: Rudolf Kempe - Vienna Philharmonic on Holiday     TESTAMENT SBT -1127
THE HYPERION SCHUBERT EDITION - Vol 9   Songs - Schubert and the Theatre  Arleen Auger (soprano) and Graham Johnson (piano)  HYPERION CDJ33009 [73:54]
Franz SCHUBERT The Late Chamber Music for Strings  Brandis Quartett  NIMBUS NI 1770
Franz SCHUBERT Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 & 6  London Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra  EMI (Great recordings of the Century) CDM 5 66984 2 [78:52]
Franz SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") With Rosamunde Music  Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Wiener Symphoniker  TELDEC 8.43187
Franz SCHUBERT The Symphonies  Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra  TELDEC 4509-91184-2 4CDs [266:09]
Franz SCHUBERT Die schöne Müllerin   Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone and speaker) Gerald Moore (piano)  EMI (Great Recordings of the Century) CDM 5 66907 2 [62:36]
Erlkönig - The Art of the Lied   various artists  DG (Deutsche Grammophon) 445-188-2 [62:24] with CD-ROM content


Ian Lace

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