There are several things that I enjoy doing on an annual basis as part of my Galaxy schedule. One of these things came about last week, my annual observance of Mozart’s birthday. I also enjoy doing Bach’s birthday when it comes along. This week finds us doing another one of those things, my observance of the birthday of Franz Schubert. I like to call it my own little “Schubertiade“, after the annual celebrations of Schubert’s life and music that are held in many places around Europe, most notably the annual festival held in Schwarzenberg and Hohenems, in western Austria (near Lake Constance). The Austrian Schubertiades are the result of a tradition that extends back to Schubert’s lifetime (he is said to have attended many), and the Schwarzenberg/Hohenems festival annually attracts some of the biggest names in lieder and chamber music performance, many of whose recordings can be heard on this program (and on WDBX Opera Overnight, which follows The Galaxy) on a regular basis.
We started tonight’s set with a favorite recording of Schubert’s Octet in F major, from 1987. The Octet was composed in 1824, during the same time period as two of his other major works, Rosamunde and Der Tod und Der Madchen string quartets. The composition was requested by Ferdinand Troyer, an Austrian nobleman and renowned amateur clarinetist, who wanted a work similar to Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat major (Op. 20). Schubert took the concept but fleshed it out by adding a second violin, making it an octet. The composition was completed on 1 March 1824, and Troyer participated in the work’s premiere. Tonight’s recording is by a combo led by Gidon Kremer, with Isabelle van Keulen, Tabea Zimmermann, David Geringas, Alois Posch, Eduard Brunner, Radovan Vlatkovic, and Klaus Tunnemann.
1824 was an important year for Schubert, as he wrote, in addition to the Octet and the Rosemunde string quartet, his Die schöne Müllerin song cycle, 20 individual songs, a number of light piano pieces, and the String Quartet No. 14 in D Minor, a string quartet that he based on one of his songs, Der Tod und das Mädchen (from 1817). The quartet was first performed in a private home in 1826, and was not published until 3 years after Schubert’s death, yet has become one of the staples of string quartet performance. The original lied is quoted at the beginning of the second movement, and another lied that is associated with death, Der Erlkönig, is quoted in the fourth movement. Tonight’s recording is a 1994 recording by the Lydian String Quartet.
We closed out the show with a brief but lovely selection of Schubert’s lieder. Really, it is hard to have an effective retrospective of Schubert’s crucial works without the inclusion of at least some of his lieder. Through the lied one not only hears his amazing ability at composing a cunning melody, but also his ability to write a piano line that is simultaneously light yet virtuosic, a part that supports the vocalist yet stands on its own as being worthy of attention. He wrote over 600 songs, many of which fit into specific song cycles such as Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. We heard a pair of songs tonight that do not come from such song cycles, starting with Das Lied im Grünen, D.917, an 1827 setting of verses by the Austrian actor Frederich Reil. Lastly, we heard his 1817 setting of a Goethe verse, Liebhaber In Allen Gestalten, D. 558. These come from a classic set of recordings from 1972 and 1973 by the fine Dutch recitalist Elly Ameling, accompanied by Dalton Baldwin.