The Annual Galaxy Schubertiade

Oil painting of Franz Schubert, after an 1825 ...

Image via Wikipedia

Once again, we find ourselves with another composer’s birthday, which I find to be excellent occasions to feature an examination of that composer’s body of work.  I never tire of this, because the results can be so edifying.  Such is the case with the great Franz Schubert, whose January 31, 1797 birthday we celebrate today.  It is hard for me to find another composer with Schubert’s sense of lyricism – he was truly an under-appreciated genius in his day whose brilliance was tragically cut short at the young age of 31.

We begin tonight’s show with Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, D. 810, subtitled Der Tod und das Mädchen, one of the highlights of his catalog, a piece considered to be one of the staples of the string quartet repertoire.  He wrote it in 1824, having been suffering from a severe illness which is now believed to have been tertiary stage syphilis.  He believed that he was dying (and, in fact, would pass away in 1828), but his creativity was undiminished, and he in fact would write some of the most extraordinary music during this period of his life.  It was first performed in a private home in 1826, while the composer was living in Vienna.  He wrote the quartet in the key of D minor, which was popularly associated with Death (the “key of Doom” in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and in Requiem Mass – which we heard last week; the key of his own Gretchen am Spinnrade; also used by Beethoven in his Piano Sonata 17, Op. 31 No. 2).  He had actually stopped writing quartets for an extended period of time, almost 8 years, but in the trying times that he was experiencing, according to Walter Willson Cobbett (yes, that is spelled right!), “the string quartet had now also become a vehicle for conveying to the world his inner struggles.”

Schubert based the string quartet on a lied that he had written in 1817, Op. 7 No. 3 (D.531), also using the same subtitle, which we have also heard tonight.  Schubert set the piece to text written by the North German poet Matthias Claudius.  The piece, illustrating the encounter between the “savage skeleton” Death and the “young and tender” Maiden, was so successful that he published it in 1821, one of a select few compositions that achieved any measure of public notoriety during his lifetime.  As with the string quartet, the song is written in D minor, and is notably difficult for the female voice to sing, requiring significant range in the lower end of the female vocal spectrum during the second of the song’s two verses (called “strophes”), where the singer sings the role of Death:

The Young Girl:
Pass by! Oh, pass by!
Go, savage skeleton!
I am still young, go, dear!
And do not touch me.
Give me your hand, you beautiful and tender thing!
I am a friend, and do not come to punish.
Be cheerful! I am not savage!
You shall sleep softly in my arms.

As with all of Schubert’s songs (referred to in German as lied, or lieder), the piano is no simple accompaniment to the voice.  Rather, the voice and the piano are equal partners, carrying equal heft and equal importance in the overall impact of the song.  This is something that was somewhat unique in Schubert’s day, and as a result Schubert helped revolutionize the art of the song, even if that recognition was late in coming to him.

Consider the following clip of the great mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig singing Der Tod und das Mädchen. At the end, where the music calls for her to drop all the way to a low D, she goes an octave higher.  That’s how hard it is to handle the song.  There are a number of vocalists who handle the range very well, most recently Jessye Norman (who is noted for her extraordinary vocal range).  I expect that this would be a trait common among Wagnerian sopranos, which requires an expanded vocal range than other vocal types.

After our two Death and the Maiden pieces, we then heard Schubert’s well-known Piano Quintet in A, Op. 114, D. 667, subtitled “The Trout”.  The Trout is written with somewhat unusual instrumentation, piano, violin, viola, cello and double-bass (most string quartets use two violins, viola and cello, and most piano quintets would just add a piano to that).  It is theorized that another composer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, had written a quintet with similar instrumentation, and Schubert had written this for a group of musicians coming together to play the Hummel work.  As with Death and the Maiden, Schubert based the quintet on another song of his, Die Forelle (The Trout), with the memorable Fourth Movement serving as a set of variations based on the song.  The piece is considered notable for its original and innovative use of harmony and chromaticism, yet another of Schubert’s work that has charmed generations of composers, musicians and listeners.

We close out the show with a fine sampling of Schubert’s genius for piano composition, his Impromptus, Op. 90.  Tonight’s selection is one of two separate sets of Impromptus that he wrote in 1827 (all written together, Op. 90 was published that year, while the second set was published after his death as Op. 142) .  These piano pieces are considered to be an important break away from the piano sonata form that had dominated piano composition in the preceding years.  Rather than pieces that come in four movements, Schubert presents here pieces that are compact, highly organized, and highly lyrical, each of which could easily stand on its own as a great piece of music, while at the same time working well as a unit.  Bernard Shaw referred to the first of our Impromptus as “a noble piece of rhetoric”.  Just as with the other pieces of music we have heard this evening, what we have heard here has a place among some of the great pieces of art in the annals of music composition.


Scratchy Vinyl, 1/29/2011

Playlist for Today’s Show!

Joshua Rifkin plays Scott Joplin, Paragon Rag
Enoch Light and his Light Brigade, Would You Like to Take a Walk
Ray Coniff and His Orch. , June in January
The Dukes of Dixieland, That’s A-Plenty
The Limelighters, Aravah, Aravah
Andre Kostelanetz and His Orch. Letter to a Lady

The Cave Singers, Summer Light ,  from album Welcome Joy
(Seattle Based, a wonderful sound.  A thank you to my brother for the gift.)

Neil Young, Old Man
Jim and Jesse, (I Hear That) Lonesome Whistle,  from We Like Train Songs
Hank Williams, You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)
Bing Crosby, Still
Doris Day, Let’s Take a Walk Around the Block
Harry Belafonte, Jump in the Line
Tomas de San Julian, Veneracion
Bob Dylan, Hurricane
John Harford, Long Hot Summer Days
Miriam Makeba, Jolinkomo
Robert Drasin,
Winchester Cathedral New Vaudeville Band, Tap You Feet
Ernie, Rubber Duckie
Enoch Light and His Light Brigade, The Very Thought of You
Perry Como, It’s A Good Day
Boots Randolph, Sleep
Peggy Lee, Black Coffee
Billie Holiday, Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me
Ben Pollack and His Park Central Orch. Sally of My Dreams
Billy Murray & Walter Scanlan, Let Me Have My Dreams
The Little Ramblers,
The Day I Let You Get Away
Jonah Jones, All Of You
Frank Sinatra, High Hopes
The Andrews Sisters, Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four
Glenn Miller, Bugle Call Rag

“It’s Too Damn Early,” 1/29/11

Maurizio Bianchi — Plays The Clockwork Orange Part 1 (from “MB Plays The Clockwork Orange,” on Hot Releases)
Maurizio Bianchi — Zyklusters (from “Zyklusters,” on Lona Records)
Philip Samartzis, Michael Vorfeld — Wams (from “Scheckenrock,” on Non-Visual Objects)
Annie Gosfield — A Sideways Look From An Electric Eye (this, and next, from “The Art of the Virtual Rhythmicon,” on Innova)
Philip Blackburn — Henry and Mimi At the Y
Ryan Jewell — Eschew Obfuscation (from “Eschew Obfuscation, Espouse Elucidation” on Hot Releases)
Ryan Jewell — Espouse Elucidation
Thollem McDonas — For All Those Who Have Gone Before (from “Gone Beyond Reason To Find One,” on Edgetone Records)
Choi Joonyong, Park Seungjun — Drill Into Your Brain (from “Driller,” on Balloon & Needle)
Big City Orchestra — Raga (from “Cogkamame,” on Ubuibi)
Big City Orchestra — Nutshell

Isabella’s Half Circle


Isabella: Where Classical & Classic Meets Spiritual

Yesterday, Thursday, January 27, I subbed for Jason for 1 hour and then Noah Leverett subbed for Jason for the second hour. I can only vouch for my own stuff, and so I’m offering you this record of what I played. It was one of the most fun and relaxing experiences, and I got accolades from two friends of mine afterwards.

I led in with the Band because it sounded so southern, and it seemed like the best connection I had to Little Feat, that had just been played previously by Dave. Thank you so much to Rosie for working the board for me. I’ll be trained on the board February 19 and then won’t be so high maintenance for the others around the station to take care of. Thank you Lori for your enthusiasm and support, and for patiently welcoming me.


The Band, Up on Cripple Creek and The Night they Drove Old Dixie Down
Simon and Garfunkel, Scarborough Fair
Ali Farka Toure, Kadi, Kadi
Beau Soleil, Freemen’s Zydeco
Stevie Wonder, Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Bob Marley, Soul Almighty
Rishi Nitya Pragya, Om Namah Shivaya, Shivaya Namah Om
Joni Mitchell, For Free

Fleetwood Mac, Songbird
Beatles, Fixing a Hole
Bryan Bowers, Satisfied Mind
Allan Sherman, One Hippopotami

Isabella Take Two

Isabella: Where Classical & Classic Meets Spiritual

What qualifies as a Classic? Age only? That doesn’t seem like enough. What qualifies as music that is spiritually uplifting? When I get to the station, it feels like my purpose is that I’m playing sound, vibration, that uplifts the spirit and takes human beings to another place. Some call it a place of transcendence. Even the popular tunes can often uplift and magnify that part of the listener that is better than the mundane, everyday, seemingly constant focus on the external, material world. Striving in that physical world somehow denies who we really are, which is part of the divine.
On Tuesday, January 18, the following tunes appeared to me that they qualified as spiritually uplifting and I played them as part of my DJ training on the Random show at 4 pm… If you have feedback please let me know. I’m still working on the radio skills. Meanwhile I just hope you’ll just sit back, relax, and enjoy my taste in music. If not, I hope you’ll forgive me but the dial is always there, and you’re always welcome to come back and tune in again later. I have confidence in you, my listener, that you’ll do whatever’s best for you and that you can somehow handle the wide diversity of music contained herein.
Mozart- Eine Kleine Nachtmusic- Allegro
KD Laing- Shadowland
John Gorka- Cypress Trees

Fleetwood Mac- Dreams
Dolly Parton- Silver Dagger
Deva Premal- Yemaya Assessu
Bach Flute Sonatas- Sonate en trio pour flute, viole de gambe
Allen Sherman- Sarah Jackman
Beau Soleil- Angela’s Waltz
Bryan Bowers- Walkin’ in Jerusalem
Allman Brothers- Blue Sky
Michael Jackson- Man in the Mirror
Beatles- When I’m 64
Louis Armstrong- You Made Me Love You
Joni Mitchell- Circle Game
Stevie Wonder- I Just Called to Say I Love You
Steve Miller Band- Swingtown
Majnun- Shelter
Simon and Garfunkel- For Emily Whenever I May Find Her

Your Community Spirit 2011 January 28

Featured websites include How Permaculture Works, Seedy Sunday, and Walk Score. News includes Obama’s failure to mention climate change; Obama’s broad definition of clean energy; the power of high-speed rail; world energy could be reduced 73% by energy efficiency alone; sex used by police as strategy to disrupt protests. Happenings include Indian with Rasmeet at Rice and Spice; Introduction to Compassionate Communication; Raise the Roof Party; Civil Union Community Forum; Habitat for Humanity Benefit Pasta Dinner; Potluck Reception for Mark Johnson of Fellowship of Reconciliation; Wild Utah presentation.