In my teens I fell in love with the music of Schubert and spent many happy summers studying virtually everything he wrote from the songs to the symphonies, to the string quartets and piano works. Then, all of sudden my idolatry was over. I didn’t care for the sounds, the style, the ideas. I was out of love for no good reason. Schubert was relegated to a past sound, a past experience.
The other day one of our faculty, the distinguished pianist Gabriel Chodos, sent me a charming note and a copy of his latest recording, The Last Three Schubert Piano Sonatas (Fleur de Son.) Listening to them again was a bit like eating Proust’s madeleine. I was reminded how Schubert came back into my life just a few years ago. I was running the Bournemouth Symphony in the U.K. and had come up with a brand new idea for a concert series. (Those who know me well will be groaning at this point!) The new series was called “Post Concert Concerts” and the idea was to have a short recital by the evening’s concerto soloist following the full orchestra concert. Interestingly, soloists loved the idea and virtually all of them seized the opportunity, even donating their services. For a very small admission price, audiences could stay for these bonus concerts—some of which were truly magical, such as the two-piano version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and the Kokoro Ensemble performing the Berg Lyric Suite.
On the night I became a born-again Schubertian, Radu Lupu was our soloist. He had volunteered a post-concert performance of one work, Schubert’s late B- flat Sonata. Unsuspecting, I attended the event as part of my normal duties. But… oh my.. .the power of serendipity. I had travelled full circle, so far away from the music and now back again. It hit me full force. I was smitten, deluged, knocked out by the astonishing beauty, originality, and power of this unique composer. My idolatry flared up all over again, but this time colored by all the life experiences from the intervening years. I just could not get enough of his music and returned repeatedly to the late works.
What last utterances! Schubert died so tragically young, just 32, younger than Mozart, slightly older than Keats, and like Keats a true lyrical romantic coming out of the changing world of classicism. He died a year after Beethoven in 1828. He used to see the great man walking through Vienna on many occasions. Beethoven, at the end of his life, had gotten to know the work of Schubert and was impressed, seeing the creative mantle falling to him. But there was no time.
Still, those last years saw a creative rush of works which has no parallel. Just think, the late Piano Sonatas; the great String Quartets including the amazing G major surely a precursor for the Bartok Quartets and undoubtedly written on the planet Saturn before heading earthward; the Ninth Symphony, the song cycles, and the great C major String Quintet. These are surely the greatest valedictory works of all time. Schubert knew that he was dying and worked feverishly to complete the works that were welling up from his still so vibrant imagination. There is something courageous and heroic in his attempt, for he was not writing for performance, but in the hope of performances after his death—which in the case of some pieces was long in coming.
There is a lovely and totally quixotic 1990 French movie called “Trop Belle Pour Toi” which stars Gerard Depardieu (Bertrand Blier, director). It is the story of a man whose wife is unspeakably beautiful but who finds himself in love with a rather plain and unattractive secretary from his office. Yes, very French. The soundtrack played throughout the film is the chamber music of Schubert and it is oddly apposite.
As intuitively right as Rioja and paella or strawberries with black pepper and lemon juice (if this is new you must try….so astonishing) or Eric Clapton playing the Blues. In the last line in the movie, Depardieu shouts at Schubert to stop. But to stop what? The theme, the rhythm, the resonance, the melody, the sadness of life?
Gabriel Chodos’ recording is very beautiful. He is deeply inside this world. I commend his recording to you.