January 31, 2020
Schubert really was the melody craftsman. For a guy who didn’t have an exciting life, and always unrequited in love, he wrote page after page of gorgeous, tuneful melodies that sound completely inspired by love and happiness. Schubert was short, not considered attractive, had no major relationships, and sat at home, composing day in and day out. When he wasn’t composing, he played and listened to music, avoiding life, and fully engaging in the world of music. And thank goodness, too, because he composed as if he knew he would only live until age 31.
Schubert was the master of the song cycle, writing series of songs that are part of the standard repertoire today. He treated every instrument like it was the human voice, infusing each one with lyricism. He also wrote symphonies, piano pieces, sonatas, and chamber music, notably “The Trout” piano quintet, and the “Death and the Maiden” string quartet, composed when Schubert was increasingly ill. I wish he’d written some concertos for piano, violin, and cello – they would have been beautiful.
I can’t remember exactly when I first heard Shepherd on the Rock, for soprano, clarinet, and piano, but I do remember how I felt. I was gobsmacked by the incredible beauty of the melody. Here’s Beverly Sills, Gerard de Peyer, and Charles Wadsworth doing the honours. The piano intro sounds stark, but oh, just wait until the clarinet comes in at :29. And then, the voice at 1:52.
Franz Schubert was born on January 31, 1797, in Vienna, Austria, and died November 19, 1828, in Vienna.