“Music alone is dangerous… There is something worrisome about music, gentlemen! I am not going too far when I declare her politically suspicious.” Those are the words of Dr. Settembrini in Thomas Mann’s great novel “Magic Mountain”. And he is right: Music is to seduce us, it wants us to get lost, to lose ourselves, to dream, to fantasize… a breeding ground for all kind of ideas beyond the politically correct and the socially acceptable. Music infiltrates society with emotions that escape any kind of control. And these emotions can explode quite unexpectedly when they reach a critical mass. Listen to music, and revolution is at hand! Especially when that music has been written by Romantic composers like Franz Schubert.
Flirting with death
Take his Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat D.929. I was precisely reading Mann’s novel and by chance listening to this piece. It’s opening sounded to me like a call to the arms leading invariably to a tragic end. Schubert immediately confronts the listener with a certain tension: heroism, enthusiasm for a lost cause, death. The sweet temptation of death is palpable at almost every bar… Isn’t it wonderful how Schubert talks to us without words, how he manipulates our feelings, how he obscures our mind and suspends our existence as a rational being? This is a composer I really venerate! And the recording made by the Trio de Trieste is a real treasure!
Secret longings and hidden fears
More than any other composer, Schubert tries to give life a meaning. He finds the meaning of his life in composing music that could give other people’s life a meaning. Schubert’s music is like the biblical seed that grows over time to become a bigger and bigger plant and finally brings down a strong wall. His music appeals to our feelings, our secret longings, our unavowed regrets, our hidden fears and our restraint expressions of joy. Schubert sets those emotions free, well knowing that the forces he unleashes cannot be controlled.
Thomas Manns’s hero in the “Magic Mountain”, the young Hans Castorp, will march into death in the first day of World War I, singing a romantic song… written by Schubert. “The Limetree” from the “Winter Journey“, an allegory for a journey beyond the point of no return. Castorp is drunk with the romantic ideas of valour and patriotism, like so many. And he is happy, happy to find the meaning of his life in his sacrifice as a brave soldier.
“Dedicated to nobody”
Schubert wrote this trio in November 1827, a year before his death. It was performed for the first time a month later. What Schubert really had in mind when he wrote the trio is unknown. My thoughts about its message are strictly mine. Schubert dedicated it “to nobody, except to those who like it”, as he wrote to his editor in Leipzig in 1828 who had agreed to print the score. This attitude testifies about Schubert’s self-confidence; he was fairly confident that the piece would rapidly meet success in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and abroad. It did. The seed fell on fertile ground.
© Charles Thibo