The weirdness of Schubert

Radio 3 has had a whole week of playing nothing but Schubert. They are calling it “The Spirit of Schubert”.

Although I’m familiar with a few of his pieces, an awful lot of stuff seems to have been composed for personal consumption. One string quartet, for example, they reckoned was composed for members of the talented Schubert family to play and it was never performed again until the 1860s, more than 30 years after Schubert died. It’s very odd to think that Schubert was born when Beethoven was 27 and died a year after Beethoven did, that they lived in the same city as one another for all that time, but there is no record of them having met.

Some of his music is wonderful – something like the Trout Quintet is right up there with the best music ever composed – but quite a lot of it is really odd. It’s almost the musical equivalent of a “magic eye” picture. Your brain takes a while to sort out the chaos until suddenly something or other becomes abundantly clear. There are lots of odd fragments of works which were never finished: one assumes that had there been a commercial imperative that they would have been completed and performed. He seems to have written most of his stuff for the fun of it. I’ve played nothing more than a couple of hisĀ Impromptus, which are beautiful, liquid pieces. I tried one of his sonatas once but I couldn’t get into it – I think it was the weirdness again.

When my son was doing A level music he had a piece of Schubert to study as a set work – I think the F Major octet. I know he was completely gobsmacked by the sheer beauty – and weirdness – of the music.

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