At the time I am writing this post I am experiencing a drought. It hasn’t rained for over two weeks, average day-time temperatures were above 20 °C. I see the grass turning brown, the flowers fading quickly. We have three 500-liter-water-cisterns and the day I am writing this, I siphoned the last drops to water the vegetables in our green house. Whatever you may believe, climate change is real. I have been living in this place now for 12 years and observed our garden closely over that time. I recognize climate change when I see it. Two weeks ago already the World Meteorological Organization issued a Climate Watch Advisory stating that “this drought may be accompanied by water scarcity, local thunderstorms, risks of wildfires and harvest losses.”
Denial – that seems a common attitude nowadays. Populists of the extreme right hijacking politics – we prefer not to look. Climate change – we point at China and drag our feet to avoid implement tough environmental standards to slow down the climate getting warmer and warmer. Internet giants take over our social life – few people speak up. Changing our behaviour seems an insurmountable challenge, because we are afraid. Afraid of change.
Franz Schubert was not afraid of change. He had to deal with impossible choices throughout his life and while he certainly was depressed at times, he did not give up, not even while he was confronted with a deadly illness. In 1828 syphilis was incurable. Penicillin would only be re-discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, exactly 100 years later. Schubert knew he was about to die – carpe diem! He did not stop to live and to compose. He did give the world a few more gems. Between May and September 1828 he wrote Piano Sonata No. 20 in A major, D. 959.
The Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman has released last year a brilliant recording of a piece that ranks among the most finest that Schubert wrote. It is breath-taking: lyrical, melancholic, witty, at times fractured and dissonant, and at the same time of a very simple elegance, of great internal coherence, as Robert Schumann would remark. Definitely a masterpiece.
One of the technically interesting key characteristics of the sonata is the spiritual dimension. After Schubert had composed the song cycle “Winter Journey” in 1827/28, he had started to use elements borrowed from the language of church music and themes inspired by choral music, says the German music scholar Andreas Krause, whose PhD thesis focused on Schubert’s sonatas. The pianist Alfred Brendel hears in this works and others of that period a “new, solemn, tender hymn-like mood”. As for Schubert’s reason for this re-adjustment of his musical language, we are in the dark. The few sources give no hint at all about what motivated him to write the sonata the way he did. The most important thing is that he did write it. Despite his desperate situation.
We have not run out of solutions yet. If Schubert did not surrender when he knew his end was near, we certainly have no excuse to remain silent, to swim with the main stream, to leave it to others to fight for our future. Wake up!
© Charles Thibo