Schubert 2022

This Week in Classical Music: January 31, 2022.  Schubert and more.  Franz Schubert, one of the greatest composers of the 19th century, was born on this day in 1797.  We love Schubert and Franz Schubert by Wilhelm August Rieder 1825have written about him and his work on many occasions, and here’s a bit more.  Schubert’s last three piano sonatas are some of his greatest works.  They were composed in 1828, practically in the last half a year of Schubert’s life, as he was dying of syphilis.  Inevitably they are compared to Beethoven’s last five: pianos sonatas number 28, op. 101 through 32, op. 111.  There clearly are parallels: the scope, the depth, the variety of musical material and just pure beauty.  We should remember that Beethoven’s sonatas, as coherent as they are in their dramatic effect, were written during a period of five years, not in a feverish six months, as Schubert’s.  Schubert’s last sonatas, although profound, are somewhat loosely structured.  That was one of the reasons they were considered somewhat inferior after they were published in1838, ten years after Schubert’s death.  This lack of internal structure (and, in some cases, excessive length) make these sonatas difficult to play.  There are some pianists who excel in them, Alfred Brendel, Sviatoslav Richter, Claudio Arrau, Maurizio Pollini being one of the best (of course there were many more who’ve played them wonderfully).  This is also the reason why some famous pianists don’t do as well: we remember Lang Lang’s performance in Chicago in 2008, which we thought was quite disastrous: our impression was that Lang Lang doesn’t quite understand what he was playing.   Of course back then Lang Lang was a media darling and many classical music critics went along with it, so the reviews of the concert were mostly positive.  Things have changed since then…  Here is Sviatoslav Richter playing Pianos Sonata D. 958 in C minor; the recording was made in 1972.  And Here is’ Alfred Brendel in the Sonata D. 959 in A major, from a 1988 recording.

Felix Mendelssohn was also born this week, on February 3rd of 1809.  By the time of Schubert’s death, when Mendelssohn was 19, he has already written several dozen compositions, including quartets, a symphony, and the famous Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture.  And two great violinists, Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz were born on the same day this week, February 2nd, Kreisler in 1875 and Heifetz in 1901.

Also, the conductor Erich Leinsdorf, who was born Erich Landauer into a Jewish family in Vienna on February 4th of 1912, 110 years ago.  He became Bruno Walter’s assistant at Salzburg in 1934 at the age of 22.  Leinsdorf left Austria several weeks before the Anschluss, Nazi Germany’s capture of Austria, to assume the position of assistant conductor at the Metropolitan opera and stayed in the US for the rest of his life, becoming a naturalized citizen in 1942.  He became the Music director of the famed Cleveland Orchestra at the age of 31 but served briefly as he was conscripted to the Army.  Leinsdorf had a distinguished career: he was named the Music director of the Boston Symphony orchestra in 1962, conducted many operas and the Met and guest-conducted many major orchestras.  He also made a number of highly acclaimed recordings, both symphonic and operatic.  Of the latter, Un ballo in maschera, Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre and Turandot are considered most interesting.

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