The short but prolific career of Franz Schubert (1797–1828) was marked by incredible creativity. He excelled in every musical genre, writing over 600 lieder, more than a dozen string quartets, 21 piano sonatas, seven completed symphonies (and many more left unfinished), operas, masses, piano trios and duets. His songs 'Erlkönig' and 'Gretchen am Spinnrade', composed by the teenaged Schubert, helped define the art song as a genre, and remain unsurpassed for their craft and dramatic power, as do the song cycles 'Die schöne Müllerin' and 'Winterreise'. Despite all of this, Schubert was underrated during his lifetime, and later dismissed by many as Beethoven’s poor relation, the chubby cherubic spinner of song who hung out in Vienna’s coffee houses, drinking with friends. It was only in the last 100 years that the full scope of his achievement has been justly appreciated and celebrated.Read more…
Schubert mixes light and dark more subtly yet dramatically than any other composer. One has the sense of his entire emotional life played out in his music – from exquisitely intimate and lyrical melodies to passages of searing tragedy, lilting Viennese waltzes and whispered prayers. There are moments of terrifying rage and torment (the Andantino of his penultimate piano sonata which teeters on the brink of the void), joy and sorrow, tragedy swiftly replaced by triumph, nostalgia shot through with melancholy and introspection, warmth and irresistible charm. His music can make time stand still (in the slow movement of his final piano sonata, for example) or rush headlong into a joyous celebration of life.
The rapid, mercurial shifts of mood, often within the space of only a handful of bars, suggest a life lived as fully as possible in a city ravaged by war, poverty, disease and immense social and political upheaval. His music is remarkable for the sequences of ideas, its architecture and lyricism, and unexpectedly daring harmonic transitions, prophetic of Wagner and Mahler.