Spirit of Schubert: 2 days (and a bit) in
I was watching television at 4.30pm. I’ll hold my hands up. I confess. I haven’t been paying as close attention to Schubert today.
I felt tired this morning. I slept in until 11.45am. The Chap had to wake me up. That is unheard of in this household.
The tiredness continued after I’d woken up, after I’d sipped at my cup of tea, sitting out on the decking admiring my pseudo-gardening efforts from the day before. I was dropping off on the sofa early, mid- and late-afternoon. Slobbing out in front of the TV felt acceptable. Schubert came a poor and lowly second to a documentary about Joan Rivers, an hour BBC Four fest about the documentary movement in the 1930s and a borderline annoying glimpse at boybands through the ages on BBC Two.
No matter. My TV viewing isn’t really shameful. Yes, Radio 3 might be pumping out wall-to-wall Schubert for my own listening pleasure, but we all need a break from time to time. We all need contrast.
I reconnected with Schubert at the tail-end of Words and Music (an always brilliant soundscape which could – don’t tell any of the Radio 3 continuity announcers for God’s sake – go on 24 hours a day if I was controller of the network). Imogen Cooper played at the keyboard as Schubert’s inventory was read out over the top.
Us lesser mortals love a good death. We want – no, we need – a pitiful end. A man’s reputation is unshakeable if it’s gained posthumously. We think ever so slightly less of the individual if we sense he (or she) has an idea of quite how much we appreciate their talent. No-one likes a smug so and so.
So it is I assume (without any evidence to back up my assertion) that it is with Schubert. Listening to another piano sonata twinkling away in the background as I prepare the homemade chicken kiev, I fill in the blanks in my head.
The man died young. He knocked out a great many works in his short life. He departed that life with nothing but a list of clothes and household items, his manuscripts stuffed in cupboards left for someone else to discover and advocate.
He is the perfect hero in my head. The master of melody. Adept at taking his listener on a dramatic journey in a short space of time. And even after only a short break from his music, I can see those signposts as soon as I switch on the radio again.
Listen to that music. Listen to the multiple voices he insists his instrumentalist remains on top of throughout some of these short pieces. That’s a demanding composer insisting on quite a lot of his performer. Only the very best will do.
Just because the piece is short doesn’t mean it’s easy either. It makes demands on the soloist to be soloistic. To transform the instrument he or she is playing into a living breathing thing. It might seem easy, but really, I don’t think it is. Take continuity boy John Shea’s recording of the accompaniment to An Die Musik.
Yep. OK. So The Shea is just playing chords. It can’t be that difficult to play. But it is a whole other matter to make it sing. And just the sound of the accompaniment reminds me of my own performing shortcomings.
To my mind, Schubert was writing for the very best performers in mind. He must have been. He wasn’t writing for amateurs musicians. How could he be? Amateurs wouldn’t have lifted his creation from something reasonably pleasant to something exquisite. That’s not their fault. That’s just how it is. That’s why we pay professionals.
Of course. Listening only to the music and not listening to any of the commentary going on around it, I could quite easily have made yet another massive schoolboy error blogging this.
No matter though. I’m reminded once again of how something I love can yield not only entertainment in the very broadest sense, but also provoke so many different questions just through listening. In a sense I don’t want those answered immediately. I’d prefer to build up a picture of the man just through listening. And then later test out my theories.
2 days down. 6 and a bit to go.