Addicted to Schubert and romanticism

Reading Rilke. I am fascinated by the Romantic Period. © Charles Thibo
Reading Rilke. I am fascinated by the Romantic Period. © Charles Thibo

Schubert. Schubert? That’s the title of a biography of the Austrian composer Franz Schubert and it highlights the fact that Schubert has been totally underrated during his lifetime – the early 19th century – and is still subject to many prejudices and misunderstandings. He has become famous for his “Lieder” (songs), as he set into music many, many poems. The best known are probably “Die Forelle” (The Trout; text by Christian Schubart), “Der Erlkönig” (The Erlking; text by Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe) and the song cycles “Die schöne Müllerin” and “Winterreise” (The Lovely Miller’s Wife, Winter Journey; poems by Wilhelm Müller). Schubert was a prolific composer (>1500 works) and is one of the top representatives of the German romantic period.

I fell for the poems composed during that era long ago, but discovered the music mirroring those poems only recently. And what a discovery it was! If I have an addiction that is detrimental to (mental) health, it is my love for romanticism. A lovely piece written by Schubert and illustrating this is his Sonata for Arpeggione and Pianoforte in A Minor, D. 821. I heard it for the first time during a student performance at the music department of the Hochschule Luzern. @spianistka on the piano and a colleague of hers on the cello (there was no arpeggione at hand) enchanted me by their performance and I could not get away from that piece of music for days.

The first two movements of the sonata can be characterized by a deeply melancholic subtone expressed mainly by the piano, creating a feeling of longing for I-don’t-yet-know-what. In the 1st movement this theme is being counter-balanced somewhat by the lively bars of the cello or the arpeggione. The 2nd movement expresses in my view what the French would call “tristees”, a sentimental longing for a long-lost love. Hard to describe without falling into the trap of “Kitsch”… Suffice it to say that it moves me deeply. The 3rd movement starts vividly as you would expect from an allegretto (a movement played fairly briskly); Schubert seems to compensate the sentimentality of the first two movements by a more optimistic finale.

Now, if you want to recreate that experience, here’s a link to Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6n7Jbe5f7EE

The recording that I prefer is the one made by Nicolas Deletaille and Paul Badura-Skoda (Fuga Libera). Deletaille plays a newly built arpeggione, as very few original instruments of this type have survived until today.

© Charles Thibo

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