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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


THE SCHUBERT SONG COMPANION
John Reed
510 pages
Mandolin, 1997
ISBN 1-901341-0013

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Franz Schubert composed hundreds of lieder, or art songs, beginning as early as 1810, at age 14, and continuing until his death in 1828. He was a prodigious composer, and in 1815 alone he composed 142 songs. Schubert's lieder define the genre. While he did not create the German lied, he certainly carried it to such a level of refinement that his name is forever linked with this type of music.

Lieder are merely solo songs accompanied usually by piano. What could be simpler? Yet, within this apparently restricted genre, Schubert composed such a wealth of material that one can explore his songs for an entire lifetime. This is what late author John Reed did. Spending decades exploring Schubert's music, he eventually helped found the Schubert Institute in the United Kingdom.

This book is Reed's testament - a magnum opus presenting 631 songs by Schubert. (The actual number of songs he wrote is difficult to pin down. Reed points out that one must choose whether variants are counted separately, and explains that the total could be anywhere from 603 to 708.) Each song is presented with the first few measures of its melody, an English translation of the text, a paragraph describing when the song was written and published, and a one or several paragraph appreciation of the song. The songs are presented in alphabetical order, allowing Schubertians to learn more about each. From the best-known songs, such as those from the cycles Die Winterreise or Die Schöne Mülerin, to the songs of his youth, less well-known yet just as interesting, this book is a program to the life's work of the greatest composer of this type of music.

In addition to the presentations of individual songs, there are sections dealing with the three song cycles, and a list of authors of the texts used by Schubert. A series of appendices examine some interesting details - which tonalities Schubert used most, a calendar of how many songs he wrote each month and each year (where we learn that he wrote as many as 28 songs in the month of August 1815), information on the songs published during Schubert's lifetime, and more.

What is lacking in this book is a more general examination of Schubert's lieder. It would have been useful to have an introductory essay dealing with the forms and social context of these works. However, fans of Schubert's lieder would best turn to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's book, 'Schubert: a Biographical Study of his Songs', which, unfortunately, is out of print in English. Or, for those who have been collecting the monumental Hyperion Schubert Lieder edition, Graham Johnson's liner notes contain a wealth of information.

This huge book is a must for all serious lovers of Schubert's lieder. Its presentation of virtually every Schubert song provides a tremendous amount of material for those who wish to learn more about this monument of music.

Kirk McElhearn


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