I may go on about Faure,Elgar, Korngold and the rest, but in truth, for me there is nobody to touch Schubert. He has a profound empathy with humanity's greatest conundrum - mortality - without having to hammer us on the head with it the way Mahler does. Schubert spent what few mature years he had (he died at 31) suffering from syphilis, knowing that his time would be short, knowing that he could never enjoy love without passing on a deadly disease. Read his letters and you feel the pain: a vast love for the wonders of life on earth and, at the same time, complete revulsion at the ugly side of humanity and, indeed, himself. Christopher Nupen's documentary about him is called 'The Greatest Love and the Greatest Sorrow' - a title that couldn't be more perfect.
The music? Divine. Nothing less. There can be nothing that carries one as he does into heightened awareness of life in the moment; nothing that furrows the brain more incisively; nothing else that taps to that extent into the endless longing that is both life's torment and possibly its meaning, without ever becoming remotely self-important or pretentious.
Schubert leaves extremely vivid images behind when you hear him. I remember my mother in tears over the G flat impromptu (I used to play it a lot), myself aged 13 encountering the String Quintet and being off school for two days afterwards, Andras Schiff playing the complete cycle in the Wigmore a few years ago and snow falling outside, Uchida playing the G major Piano Sonata in the Festival Hall, hearing the Notturno for piano trio at midnight in a Norwegian cathedral; the list is endless and the effects magical beyond description.
A few days ago a friend came round to play a concerto to us and a handful of other friends. The weather was glorious and we were all happy to be together after last week's tragedies. Our friend played exquisitely; afterwards I cooked what even I felt was a reasonably sumptuous dinner; and we sat around until after midnight listening to music and getting through a fair bit of Beaujolais. Finding the right music didn't seem to be easy, though; we experimented with Eddy Duchin (my famous relation!), Kapustin, Strauss, Debussy...and finally someone found the Schubert B flat Piano Trio in the recording by Thibaud, Cortot and Casals. This piece has a thousand and one associations for me already, but I doubt I'll ever hear it again without seeing my own lounge by lamplight, the doors wide open into the dark garden, golden reflections in the glass, the closeness of people I love, the awareness of loss lingering unseen amid all the sweetness.
I think that one reason I want to write is to preserve something of such experience.