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

Monday, November 28, 2016

Schubert's Autumn

Happy Monday.

Ludwig Rellstab 

Es rauschen die Winde
So herbstlich und kalt;
Verödet die Fluren,
Entblättert der Wald.
Ihr blumigen Auen!
Du sonniges Grün!
So welken die Blüten
Des Lebens dahin. 

Es ziehen die Wolken
So finster und grau;
Verschwunden die Sterne
Am himmlischen Blau!
Ach, wie die Gestirne
Am Himmel entflieh'n,
So sinket die Hoffnung
Des Lebens dahin! 

Ihr Tage des Lenzes
Mit Rosen geschmückt,
Wo ich den Geliebten
Ans Herze gedrückt!
Kalt über den Hügel
Rauscht, Winde, dahin!
So sterben die Rosen
Der Liebe dahin. 

(English translation here)

Friday, November 18, 2016

You want it darker?

Listening to Christoph Prégardien singing Lieder by Mahler, Schubert and Schumann the other night at the Wimbledon International Music Festival, I couldn't help wondering if that's where Leonard Cohen got it from. The journey to the darkest regions of the human heart dates not from today's finest singer-songwriters, perhaps not even from Mahler, but from the 1820s. Schubert's settings of Heinrich Heine in his last song cycle, Schwanengesang, are a strong contender for the title of bleakest, most nihilistic music in history, should we ever need to present such an accolade. Their intense pain is only increased by their beauty - and by the craftsmanship by which Schubert is able to kick our guts out with the upward step of one semitone in 'Der Doppelgänger'.

Christoph Prégardien. Photo:
There's something almost masochistic about a really good Lieder recital. We're put through the crushing emotions of lost love, of longing for death, of self-imposed suicidal isolation, and the more it hurts, the better the singer is presenting it. We're put through an emotional mangle and sometimes we weep. And the more of that there is, the more likely we are to offer him/her a standing ovation at the end. Because actually we come out feeling better.

Is that because it's over? Nope. It's good, old-fashioned, Greek catharsis. We have the chance, listening to these songs, to go into the secret, suppressed chambers of our own hearts and concentrate on feeling, unimpeded, the emotions we might not want to let out otherwise. It hurts, but it's an experience, a meditation and a release.

The fact that Christoph Prégardien was singing in Wimbledon at all is quite a triumph for the WIMF, whose programming these days wouldn't disgrace a festival three times its weight in the centre of some gorgeous European capital, rather than suburban south-west London, where we all go wombling free (even Alfred Brendel, who lives north of the river, was in the audience for this one). Prégardien's artistry is streamlined, focused, essential: with beauty of tenor tone absolutely intact - he is 60 - diction impeccable, emotions of text and tone fused and explored to the last degree, he is the consummate Lieder singer. His partnership with the excellent pianist Sholto Kynoch matched all of that. He brought splendour, agony and ecstasy to Mahler's Lieder eines Fahrenden Gesellen first; bitterness, irony and a heady intelligence to Schumann's Dichterliebe in the second half; and those Schubert Heine settings in between are still alive and reverberating with wonder and horror somewhere in my subconscious several days on. You want it darker? Try Schubert.

Incidentally, the artistic director of the WIMF, Anthony Wilkinson, has for some years been spearheading an effort to get a world-class concert hall built in Wimbledon; and at the moment, he tells me, things are progressing quite well. More power to his elbow.

The festival continues with a feast of great music-making until 27 November: Christian Tetzlaff in solo Bach and Bartók, Tabea Zimmermann and Dénes Várjon, Michael Collins, Raphael Wallfisch, a Klezmer night with Balkan Voices, the Tetzlaff Quartet, the Bach Christmas Oratorio and more. Wimbledon is a short train ride from Waterloo, or take the southbound District Line to the end.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Heart of darkness

Barenboim in concert at the RFH. Photo: Chris Christodoulou
Yes, it's him again. Them. Barenboim and that piano. I reviewed the final recital of the Schubert series last night for The Arts Desk - and a very extraordinary evening it was.

I'm normally loathe to use imagery quite as colourful as suggesting that a pianist becomes Orpheus and leads us across the Styx, but how else to convey in words with reasonable accuracy the effect of what he did with the slow movement of the B flat Sonata? He went right into the work's darkest recesses and drew from it something resembling catharsis in the ultimate sense. I don't think I'll be able to listen to the piece again for quite a while, so strong was this. Read the whole thing here.

Incidentally, I had a fascinating little chat with the piano technician Peter Salisbury, who has been helping with maintaining the newbie instrument through the series. I've rarely seen any piano expert quite so fired up about anything. Apparently the action on the Barenboim-Maene piano is not lighter than a "normal" concert grand - it is as heavy, or heavier, he says - and it is not easier to play, but more difficult, and takes a lot of getting used to; yet the rewards are still emerging in terms of colour and seem to hold endless potential.

Last week Barenboim gave the Edward W. Said London Lecture at the Mosaic Rooms. You can find a video of it and the Q&A that followed online at the London Review of Books, here. The lecture focused on...

Music education. Its crucial, essential nature. The necessity for music to be taught in schools 'on a par with mathematics or biology'. So there. Listen up, politicos.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lovely piano, shame about the Schubert

I was kind of underwhelmed by Barenboim's approach to Schubert yesterday, sorry to say. But his bespoke piano sounds terrific.

Here's my review in The Arts Desk

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Schubert's Enigma of Kaspar Hauser

Ever wondered why we don't hear Schubert's operas more often? Occasional extracts, recorded by the likes of Jonas Kaufmann and Christian Gerhaher, prove that within them there is some vintage Franzi music; now and then, too, an enterprising company in Germany or Austria sees fit to give Fierrabras or Alfonso und Estrella a peer over the parapet, though this is rare. Too many operas are let down by their lousy libretti, and Schubert's, sadly, are no exception. But the music, the music...

Now, though, Kammeroper München has a brand-new Schubert opera for us: nothing less than the story of Kasper Hauser.

Please have a little listen to this:

The story is much older than the Werner Herzog film, of course: the 19th-century legend of a child who appeared as if from nowhere in a village square, unable to talk; on gaining the power of speech, he proved a wunderkind in terms of intelligence and, possibly, prophecy.

But true enough, the scenario is not one that the composer picked for himself. The librettist Dominik Wilgenbus and the composer and arranger Alexander Krampe have this summer transformed Kasper Hauser into an opera, with music drawn from extracts of Schubert: the operas, the early Lieder and more. It is having its world premiere run now and until 13 September at Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich: full details here.

More info from the Süddeutsche Zeitung here, and an interview (German) with Alexander Krampe from Merkur here.

And if you're wondering about the calibre of Schubert's operatic music in general, just try this.

Meanwhile on these shores we need to get back to blogging PDQ. Solti was always here to help me along with encouraging purrs, and I reckon he wouldn't have wanted everything to come to a standstill now that he has gone.

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?

...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?)