By Scott Yoo
The host of Now Hear This and Mexico City Philharmonic music director shares noteworthy selection by revered composer Franz Schubert. Listen along to all of these at on our playlist here.
What is your favorite Schubert composition? Let us know, and don’t miss Now Hear This streaming on pbs.org/gperf, and the PBS Video app.
Schubert Three Song Cycles
Schubert Sessions: Lieder with Guitar
John Charles Britton
The legendary virtuoso Isaac Stern once told me in a lesson that if I wanted to play better, I’d have to get to know Schubert’s songs as sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. His are truly the definitive recordings of 58 of Schubert’s greatest songs. Each song is an entire world unto itself. And to think that these three song cycles— Die Schöne Müllerin, Winterreise, and Schwanengesang— represent less than 10 percent of Schubert’s output is truly a humbling thought. On the Schubert episode of Now Hear This, I had the great pleasure of hearing his songs with guitar, sung by the wonderful Philippe Sly. Philippe is such an elegant artist and the guitar creates a warm atmosphere— when you hear these versions, you will love them as well.
Schubert Cello Quintet in C, D. 956
Cleveland Quartet/Yo-Yo Ma
In college, my friends and I would often muse about what would have happened had Schubert lived another decade, another year, even another few months. What groundbreaking works of music has the world missed out on because of his death at the age of 31? With everything that is going on these days, I now have a much more optimistic thought: How grateful we should all be that Schubert died in November, and not in, say, August. It was in the very last three months of his life that he wrote the last three piano sonatas and this quintet. When I first played this piece at a sight-reading party in summer camp, I was forever changed. Is it the greatest piece of chamber music ever written? I think yes.
Schubert Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944
One of the great tragedies of Schubert’s brief life was that fact that Schubert never heard many of his greatest works— including this, the “Great” Symphony. It was not until eight years after Schubert’s death that his brother showed Robert Schumann a pile of Schubert’s unpublished manuscripts. Schumann recalled that “the sight of this hoard of riches thrilled me with joy!” and passed the score along to Felix Mendelssohn— who immediately understood the magnitude of this, one of the greatest symphonies ever written. As a violin player, you’re exhausted after playing this piece, but as a listener you marvel at its “heavenly length,” and yet don’t want it to end.
Schubert Trout Quintet
Frank Braley, Renaud Capuçon, Gérard Caussé, Gautier Capuçon, Alois Posch
Schubert’s most famous piece of chamber music was written when he was barely 22 years old. His friend Sylvester was an amateur cellist and a lover of Schubert’s song “The Trout,” so they made a deal from which Schubert wrote a piece of chamber music that Sylvester could handle on the cello, including a variation movement based on the Trout theme. This is joyous, carefree music that will capture you hook, line and sinker.
Schubert Late Piano Sonatas
It is amazing to consider the stylistic distance that Schubert traveled from his first proto-Haydn quartets and symphonies to his last piano works. It is even more amazing to think that he bought the world into the Romantic era in just 31 years. The last three piano sonatas— among his last utterances as a composer— stray so far from the order and symmetry of his earlier, classical-style sonatas that they almost should have been renamed as fantasies. Hearing the darkness and resignation in this music makes you wonder if Schubert knew he had very little time left. Yet, the eventual acceptance and peace in them make these sonatas extremely uplifting, and some of my favorite music in the world.