Showing posts with label Schubert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Schubert. Show all posts

Friday, May 30, 2014

Happy birthday, Jelly

The great violinist Jelly d'Arányi, muse to Ravel, Vaughan Williams, Bartók and many other composers (maybe even Elgar), was born on this day in 1893. The woman for whom Tzigane was created is today remembered far too little, yet the more one digs into her life, the more fascinating it becomes. She was the great-niece of Joseph Joachim - her elder sister Adila Fachiri (her married name), herself a fabulous violinist, was among his last pupils and was at his bedside when he died.

Jelly's life housed countless mysteries. One of the most intriguing is that she enjoyed a duo with Myra Hess for some 20 years, yet merits scarcely a mention in passing in Hess's largest biography to date (I've been trying to find out what went wrong between them, but so far to little avail). She never married, but the great love of her life is said to have been the Australian composer and Olympic rowing champion Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. And she gave the UK premiere of the Schumann Violin Concerto in February 1938: as for the famed "spirit messages" from Schumann asking her to track down and perform the piece, which was suppressed by Clara, Joachim and Brahms after the composer's death, there's no doubt that she certainly believed that her messages were genuine - and that they proved effective in restoring the concerto to life.

Please listen to her, Felix Salmond and Myra Hess playing the slow movement of Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat major.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Look who I'm off to see tomorrow



OK, it's not much to do with Schubert, the trip tomorrow. It's the Beethovenfest in Bonn and Andras will be playing a programme of sonatas including the D minor Op.31 No.2 and the 'Waldstein'. I haven't been to Bonn before and am a little excited at the prospect of seeing Beethoven's birthplace and also - unexpectedly, as I didn't know until yesterday that it existed - a Schumannhaus museum at the former asylum in Endenich (a suburb of Bonn), which is where our unlucky and much-loved Robert died in 1856. With Andras I'll be talking Beethoven, Bach, Bartok and big birthdays.

Meanwhile, enjoy his beautiful film about Schubert.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Favourite things: Kaufmann sings 'Die schöne Müllerin'



The other day I was out for a walk in Richmond Park and I spotted a pair of shoes abandoned next to a Bächlein. While I doubt that Schubert or the young miller protagonist in this heart-rending song-cycle would actually have worn blue suede loafers (they're more Elvis, perhaps), I've had this music on the brain ever since. Who better to listen to than Jonas Kaufmann and Helmut Deutsch?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The trouble with sparkles

T'other day I was out shopping when the girl behind the counter, returning my credit card, handed me a gift of a Christmas cracker covered in sparkles. I think our neighbours must have got one too, because they put through our door a cracker joke that runs: "Which players can't you trust in an orchestra? The fiddlers."

The trouble with the sparkles is that they're fairy dust and they fall off. Next thing you know, they're on the kitchen floor, in the cat food, under the piano, on the train and, by now, probably all over the Royal Festival Hall.

And they've got into JDCMB. We all sometimes need to get our sparkle back, so here are five favourite bits of musical glitter and winter snow to light the long evenings, aided and abetted by some great dancing. And they're not all Russian. Don't forget that this Friday it's the Winter Solstice and time for the JDCMB Ginger Stripe Awards!

Prokofiev: The Winter Fairy, from Cinderella - Frederick Ashton's choreography, with Zenaida Yanowsky



Schubert: Der Winterabend, sung by Werner Gura with pianist Christoph Berner. The gentler sparkle of moonlight on snowy stillness...




Tchaikovsky: The Silver Fairy variation from Act III of The Sleeping Beauty (look! No Nutcracker!). Danced by the Royal Ballet's Laura Morera.



Brahms: Es tönt ein voller Harfenklang. (Yes, there are sparkles in Brahms. Just listen to this...) Abbado conducts members of the Berlin Phil and the Swedish Radio Choir.



Rachmaninov: Suite No.2 for two pianos, second movement - Waltz. Alexander Goldenweiser and Grigory Ginzburg don't play it as fast as Argerich and Freire, but there's time to wallow in the glitter.







Wednesday, July 18, 2012

An interview with Barenboim & Son

I've been talking to Daniel Barenboim and his violinist son, Michael, about their burgeoning dynasty. They're respectively conductor and concertmaster of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which will be all but taking over the Proms from this Friday to next.

Read it all in today's Independent, here.

Here they are in the Schubert 'Trout' Quintet first movement, with an ensemble from the WED - Daniel Barenboim (piano), Michael Barenboim (violin), Orhan Celebi (viola), Kyril Zlotnikov (cello), Nabil Shehata (double bass). Enjoy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Schubert forever! Or at least, a whole week on Radio 3

Just a few weeks back on JDCMB we asked "WHY SCHUBERT?" It turns out that BBC Radio 3 had decided to ask that too. They're doing wall-to-wall Schubert from 23 to 31 March - nothing but Schubert and Schubertian stuff, day and night, for eight and a half days. I'm not sure how the Schubert addicts amongst us will manage to do anything except glue ourselves to the airwaves while this is going on.

Radio 3 has more details here and yesterday I had a feature about it in The Independent, in which I talked to Professor Brian Newbould - the man who finishes unfinished Schubert and has finished some more for this occasion - and also to Roger Wright, controller of R3. Read it here. (I didn't post this yesterday because I went somewhere nice to interview someone very special - more of that in April.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Schubert to the Max

The ace violist Maxim Rysanov sent me this after the Schubert post went up yesterday. In his project 'Looking for Schubert' he's setting out to find the right piece of new music to complete a Schubert album. He invites composers to send in a work 6-8 minutes long for viola and string orchestra, inspired by our beloved Franz. Quite a novel way to go about things, this. Here he is to explain further.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Schubert?

There are a few pieces of music that I try not to hear too often, since they are so powerful they keep me up at night. Most of them are by Schubert. I went to hear one of them yesterday: the E flat piano trio. If you want to be awake and haunted at 3am, look no further than its second movement.

Why Schubert?
Because...



...Schubert, as you know, is most famous for his songs. His musical language is completely intermingled with the flow of language, poetry and ideas. This comes through his instrumental works as well as his Lieder, perhaps contributing to their sense of ultra-communication in the soul-to-soul sense. He appeals not only to our sonic imagination but our linguistic and literary one too, yet by-passing words to give only the impact of their unwritten message. The E flat trio's second movement feels at times like a fugitive from Winterreise, but its grand-scale structure is not shackled by strophic verse. The emotional content is there, but free to grow and develop at "heavenly length" (Schumann's term, originally describing the Ninth Symphony).

...The myth goes that from the age of about 25 Schubert, diagnosed with syphilis, knew that he was going to die young, and that this awareness fed the tortured side of his works. It's dubious. He made it to 31, but did not in fact die from that horrible, degenerative illness, but something else, possibly contracted from eating some bad fish. In his last letter to his brother, he asked for a copy of a James Fenimore Cooper novel. He thought he was going to be in bed for a while, reading, recovering - not imminently pushing up the Viennese daisies. And yet the speed at which he dashed off searing, visionary, humane masterpieces such as this trio, the String Quintet, the last three piano sonatas, the great string quartets like the D minor 'Death and the Maiden' and the ahead-of-its-time G major, the Ninth Symphony, SchwanengesangWinterreise - it positively beggars belief, enhancing the impression that Schubert, like Keats, had fears that he might "cease to be, Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain..."

It may well be true that the long walks he was prescribed - apparently to build up his strength in resistance to the syphilis - could account for the walking rhythms he chose so often, as in this trio, Winterreise's 'Gute nacht', the C minor Impromptu, the Ninth Symphony's second movement. Whether or not he could predict his own death, he could certainly see a future blighted by a then-incurable venereal disease: this passionate and sensitive young man, who loved life so intensely and was both compelled and disgusted by its seamy, venal side, would never be able to have a loving relationship without passing on that illness to his partner (let's avoid the "was Schubert gay?" question for the moment, because the end result is the same where syphilis is concerned). Known to his friends as "Little Mushroom", he was not in any case hunk of the century: short, plump, bespectacled. You can still see his glasses in a case in the birthplace museum in Vienna. They are tiny with round lenses, one of which is cracked. It's an oddly heartbreaking exhibit.

...In Schubert, the major tonality is more tragic than the minor. It is the way he switches between them that rips at our innards. What is he doing? What is he saying? Recognition of darkness turns to acceptance of it, maybe. Or to seeing the beauty beyond it. Or to welcoming it. Or to extending compassion to everyone for it, with a wry smile through the tears. I believe that in the change from minor to major he is not only recognising the darkness and transforming it, but empathising with both sides of it, and with us all: in that switch, for Schubert, lies the essence of the human condition.

...Schubert is a matter of pure emotion, introverted but also universal. Against today's backdrop we need his message more than ever. As you'll have noticed, we're in a time of extremism and mass hysteria: a time of whipped-up, maliciously manipulated finger-pointing, witch-hunts, pointless and irrational victimisation (the real nasties mostly get away with blue murder while our attention is diverted by trivia). Against such a dim, dumb background, Schubert remains the voice of balanced humanity at its most sensitive, facing up to its own nature with supreme honesty. After the 7/7 bomb attacks in London in 2005, someone asked me to suggest consoling music; I picked Schubert as the ultimate. I think at that point it was the slow movement of his other piano trio, the B flat. Now, though, we need the E flat.

...I know I've pointed out before the way that Schubert could pack more emotional truth into a four-minute song that certain composers of very expensive symphonies manage to say in an hour and a quarter. But when he does do "heavenly length" there is a point to it. Did you know that if you count the bars of the first movement of the Sonata in B flat D960, including the repeat and its first-time linking passage, there are the same number in the exposition up to the double bar as there are in the rest of the movement? Whatever this may or may not tell us, it says that he knew what he was doing; he was not wielding out-of-control, sprawling structures, something of which he's sometimes been accused. There was self-awareness in that length; it was deliberate.

...I love the fact that we owe Schubert to Schumann, Liszt, Mendelssohn and Brahms. Schumann went to Schubert's brother's house and unearthed manuscripts including the Ninth Symphony. Mendelssohn conducted it. Brahms edited some of the piano music for publication, refusing to take a credit for his work. Liszt transcribed some of the songs and made them well known by performing them in his recitals. Their own music is full of his influence. And of course, without Schubert's influence we wouldn't have had Mahler (though to me, Schubert is worth ten of him. Don't shoot.).

...Schubert brings us back to purity, truth and tenderness. Amid the mayhem, don't forget to listen.

(UPDATE: Entartetemusik is somewhat exercised about my last line. Try the beginning of my piece as well as the end? The bit about how this music keeps you awake and haunted at 3am?)