Franz Schubert: Music and Belief

Franz Schubert: Music and Belief

Franz Schubert: Music and Belief

Franz Schubert: Music and Belief


Remarkable new study...Its central submission, that we have hitherto disregarded or misinterpreted the most profound intuitions of a unique composer, certainly carries conviction. And even after one reading there are already musical passages that this Schubert enthusiast find himself hearing in quite a new way. Bayan Northcott, BBC MUSIC MAGAZINEA sensitive and richly allusive commentary... likely to change the way we listen to certain works. Brian Newbould.The old stereotypes of Schubert as Bohemian artist and unselfconscious creator have been replaced over the past half-century with a picture of a difficult man in difficult times. The author aims to redress the balance, concentrating firstly on works where Schubert's beliefs are clearly expressed (masses, other religious music, songs amounting to Geistliche Lieder). This also prompts an examination of instrumental masterpieces (Unfinished and Great C Major Symphonies, and the Wanderer Fantasy), which show that Schubert's religious side encompasses awe and terror as well as wonder. Schubert's `complete voice' is thus clearly heard, rather than the sombre one currently emphasised in both literature and concert.LEO BLACK is a former BBC chief producer for music.


Schubert has the right blend of the ideal and the real: for him, the world is beautiful.

Eduard Bauernfeld, diary, 3 March 1826

We have no business seeking a great man elsewhere than in his work.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Schillers Selbstcharakteristik

The story of Schubert's life 'in the world' has been told and retold, sometimes well and lately in ever-more-vivid detail: early years among talented siblings at his father's schoolhouse in a new suburb of Vienna, leaving home to become a boarder at the State Grammar School and sing as a chorister at the Imperial Court Chapel, friendships with solid citizens like Josef von Spaun, eccentric intellectuals like Johann Baptist Mayrhofer and self-indulgent dissolute Bohemians like The Hon. Franz von Schober; and then the disaster of his contracting a sexually transmitted disease in his mid-twenties, with his final few years of balancing sociability against ill-health, guilt and an uncertain life-span until his death a few weeks short of his thirty-second birthday. This book is rather about his life 'in his work'. It follows the unfolding of the personality we are privileged to meet, come to know and love through experience of it as listener or performer. It tries in particular to tease out a strand in his make-up that has been too little appreciated - a certain strain of wonder.

It struck me long ago - and I had not grown up believing such things - that the power of Schubert's music to bring him vividly before me after the passage of two centuries, purely by virtue of vibrating air, could be among the stronger arguments for a belief in personal survival in some shape or form. No possible disrespect, then, to his omniscient and tireless biographers, but the music is unchanged since November 1828. Were it not there, who would interest himself in an obscure personality, however remarkable, alive in central Europe for a mere handful of years two centuries ago? To all but the most specialist scholars the composer by now amounts to the man, and details of his life should be superfluous where there is a receptive ear. It has been put to me that knowing the biography 'somehow makes him more human'. An exemplary performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations lately left me thinking that such music makes him incomparably more 'human' than anything garnered from reading about his life, but so be it.

The difficulty in talking about a composer's inner life is that the written word . . .

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