Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who Killed Classical Music?

Who Killed Classical Music? Maistros, Managers and Corporate Politics
by Norman Llebrecht ©1997
This book contains a tremendous amount of information, most of which is never brought to the attention of music students as they make their way first through conservatories of music, which can seem like monasteries to the uninitiated, and then out into the world of diminishing opportunities for the musicianship they have spent the better part of their lives perfecting. I was advised to read this book and write something about it on this blog, for further comment, by the fine pianist John Bell Young. Here is another website where he might be reached.

Maurice Strakosh
Arthur Judson
Walter Legge 1906-1979

The Volpes with Ronald Wilford
Mark McCormack

The most significant kind of information this book contains are the rough biographies of various “heavy hitters” among the class of those we would call “agents”; people who represented artists as well as musical organizations and made a tremendous amount of money through their agencies, which had direct economic effects on concert performance policies and ticket prices and every other conceivable aspect of classical music presentation as a business. Read this book and discover people you've probably never heard of whose contributions both for good and ill have made the entire art form what it has become today; Gaetano Belloni, Maurice Strakosh, Arthur Judson, the Judd brothers (George and Bill), Walter Legge, Ronald Wilford, Norio Ohga, Mark McCormack, and others. It is important for every serious musician, regardless of preferred genre, to know the accomplishments and destructiveness wrought by these individuals and their “industry” which has made a few musicians incomparably richer than the great majority, have impoverished orchestras and opera companies and have saddled a technical and traditional art form with trappings of the corporate and sports entertainment worlds, largely to its detriment.

It would be easy to suggest that classical music's biggest problems have always been the chasing of patronage, sponsorship and commissions, while at the same time losing audience to other genres which require far less concentration and discipline. How does one make a living doing what one loves, but which may be largely unpopular? Some musicians have as Lebrecht suggested, tried to ignore their audiences, whose conservative tastes if anything were made by these agents who stood in the shadows, who deemed it safer to program music that had already earned a favourable reputation, than risking lots of money on less likely payoffs. Of course Lebrecht mentions cases where huge sums were spent on likely winners which never paid off either.

John Bell Young might well be disappointed: I know he wanted me to come forth and say more, and I can and will, but what I think we really need to do right now is for me not to say too much more on the subjects covered in Mr. Lebrecht's books (this one and two others covering similar important historical and business details), but instead offer to post any original monographs by others with opinions on these subjects that are sent to me with permission to post them here, issues which are really of such vast concern, or should be, to every working classical musician (and many more of us who are either out of work or have given up trying to earn anything from what we love to do most).

With that in mind, I am asking my readers to network with others to obtain permission for me to post their words here and to draw more attention to these issues. You can correspond with me concerning these topics at, put Death of Classical Music in the subject line so I know what it concerns. I might even do something really stupid and offer to get myself involved in a musical organization. We'll see. We really need to discuss these issues in a fair and fulsome fashion. No better time than right now!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Music of the Great Composers – Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)

Yes, his name really does translate into English as Joe Green. Born the same year as Richard Wagner, Giuseppe Verdi would become the first composer of Italy to achieve genuine international recognition, he would be the first in our series to live into the 20th century (just barely), and above all, Verdi's name and reputation form the very heart and soul of Italian grand opera. During Verdi's long and illustrious career, he wrote 26 operas, six or eight of which have become the backbone of the opera repertoire throughout the world.

In 1984, a lavish ten and a half hour mini series, "The Life of Verdi" starring Ronald Pickup. gained some popularity. The following are links to the trailers for various parts of this series:

1: La Scala, 1833: Giuseppe Verdi listens to Una Furtiva Lagrima
7: La Forza del Destino and Competition From Wagner

This series provides a tantalizing glimpse into times past and something of what it might have been like to have lived as one of the fashionable set of those days, as Verdi clearly became, living and working among those associated as they said of themselves, with “the theatre,” both as a business and a profession. The theatre they meant of course was the opera house, a unique kind of theatre built for the presentation of sung musical dramas.

The opera world of the 19th century was a time of relentless building up of the basic repertoire beyond baroque, classical and bel canto precursors. The romantic age set literature as a reservoir from which to draw inspiration. Opera was popular as entertainment for most classes but the very poor and influential as a means to comment on social affairs without those observations having an overtly political form. In this way Verdi was attracted to choose characters and situations for his operas involving great difficulty, often leading to insurmountably tragic results.

The real Giuseppe Verdi was a complicated man, who it must be told was dealt some very hard turns in life and perhaps had it not been for his natural resilience, the faith of a few good friends, and his commitment to opera and its institutions, he might not have survived at all. How few young and ambitions people start out in life with their sweet little family literally ripped away by epidemic diseases? These things did happen back then far more often, even during the early 19th century, which was not so long ago. The cynicism of those days had it that if war did not claim you, disease or famine surely might. Yet, it was almost as if fate rewarded Verdi for surviving the death of his family, the deep scars left on him from it must certainly have affected him for the rest of his life.

La Scala
Verdi's complexities led him to some political activism, however unlike Wagner's revolutionary participation in the troubles of 1848, Verdi's elevation to the new Italian parliament was through public acclimation. If Verdi and Wagner were each in their own right, politically active and nationalistic in their outlook for their countries, and they were, Verdi comes off as at once more naturally acceptable to his countrymen and his music far more easily understood, whether he accomplished very much for his country as a legislator (doubtful) or not.

Musically we could also say that Verdi did not make any real improvements on the technique of writing opera from his immediate predecessors, while Wagner was clearly taking many departures from those who came before him. Verdi's orchestration and the power of the human voice is far more focused; where Wagner is likely to get mystical and abstruse, Verdi is always very clear, down to earth and true to a range of explicit human emotions, as exemplified in the stylized careers of his operatic characters, some becoming so well known that their characteristic stereotypes define a veritable layer of Italian national consciousness. Wagner leans in the direction of the harmonically and emotionally complex or intellectual, whilst Verdi inclines one to pay closer attention to the simple and obvious features of human nature.

Peculiarities, this most Italian of composers was technically born a Frenchman; the section of Italy where he was born was in the possession of the French at the time of his birth. He seems to have had a proclivity to music but does not show quite the precocity of some notable forerunners, particularly Mozart. Verdi gives his first public concert at the age of 17 in the home of his future father in law. We don't know what he did, play the piano maybe? Whatever it was, it wasn't opera. By the age of 20 in 1833 (the year Brahms was born) we find Verdi in Milan studying music and getting more involved with the theatre, which is opera.

Three years later he is married. In the following two years his two children are born. They both die in infancy and in 1840 his wife dies of encephalitis. His family life is all over in a shocking four years!

Giuseppina Strepponi (1815-1897)
Professionally, at the same time Verdi was getting himself enmeshed in the opera business centring around La Scala in Milan, which was run by an impresario, Bartolomeo Merelli. Throughout cultural history there are many who deserve credit for helping or inspiring composers to create their music, for artists to paint their pictures, writers to pen their books, etc. Without Merelli, Verdi might have given up music after his wife's death. Instead, the world has Merelli to thank for Verdi's Nabucco which instantly made Verdi world famous. This fame came in 1842 when Verdi was 29 years old. He would write 14 more operas within the decade of his thirties, what he called his “galley years” either a reference to a slave ship or a small kitchen. Verdi, liking puns, could have easily meant both.

An important inspirational influence on Verdi was the opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi (1815-1897) who would eventually become Verdi's second wife. Defying the conventions of the day, they lived together many years before finally getting married in 1859. It is well known that whilst Verdi was baptised Catholic and raised (perhaps) with a little Jesuit education, he seems to have decided not to believe in anything (despite the liturgical contexts of some of his later works). This essentially secular / worldly attitude contributed one more strand to the fabric of a singular individualist, who would become commercially and financially as successful in his lifetime as Wagner was chronically impoverished. The various public annals ascribe to Verdi many genial and gracious qualities that his contemporary German counterpart certainly lacked.

La Fenice
Verdi brings his busy “galley years” to a close with Rigoletto, which premièred in Venice in 1851 (he was 38 at the time). In 1973, during my first visit to Europe, I was fortunate to see a bel canto opera performed in the same space (La Fenice - the Phoenix) where this Verdi opera was first heard. The original opera house was small, tall and intimate, a large room built for singing, as all great opera houses should be. It was destroyed by fire a few years after I was there. This wasn't the first time. La Fenice has been destroyed by fire three times in its history and was always rebuilt to something close to the original design. Two years later Verdi premièred Il Trovatore in Rome and La Traviata again in Venice where it flopped and was booed. Verdi was pushing the envelope describing middle class characters and highlighting the career of a prostitute trying to go legitimate. La Traviata is probably today one of the half dozen most popular operas of all time.

Between 1855 and 1867 (aged 42 to 54) Verdi writes five more operas including probably my favourite, La Forza del Destino (The force of destiny) which has an intriguing plot involving an accidental murder, confused or misrepresented identity, friendship, escaping the passions of the world through monasticism, discovery of true identity and the inevitable futility of revenge which accidentally destroys the character who was the original object of the first accidental murder. After Rigoletto, Verdi's operas each become more complicated and ingenious.

Verdi's famous Requiem was originally a project to honour fellow Italian composer Gioachino Rossini. Verdi was originally only to have to write one of the sections, the others were to be contributed by other composers. But the whole thing fell through which led to a few permanent professional and personal breaks between Verdi and some other musicians. Five years later (Verdi was 60) the Requiem was completed and presented for the first time in Milan a year later to honour Italy's most famous novelist and poet, Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). I was told on my first visit to Italy back in 1973 that to really understand what was most central to Italian culture, it was necessary to read Manzoni's great novel, I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed). I still haven't read it.

Teresa Stolz (1834-1902)
is associated with Verdi's last years,
the Requiem and Aida
At the same time as Verdi was writing the Requiem he was approached to write a grand opera to celebrate the opening of the new Suaz Canal to be performed in a new opera house being constructed in Cairo, Egypt. The organizers wanted him to accept a commission but Verdi was reluctant to accept until others of his contemporary competitors were mentioned as possible contenders, especially Richard Wagner. Aida, the story of an ancient Egyptian princess who is buried alive for love (somehow that seems a stylized Egyptian theme), was given a world première in Cairo in 1871 (Verdi was 58).

But Verdi was not finished. He spent many years revising some of his operas, but in 1887 (74 years old) Verdi premièred in Milan what is regarded by some as his greatest tragic opera, based on Shakespeare's Othello. Otello is in addition not formally set up in traditional operatic sections and numbers, as are most operas, as if Verdi was admitting something of the freedom Wagner had discovered earlier. Verdi's last opera, Falstaff, is a brilliantly written and exquisitely sensitive comedy displaying Verdi's continuing development as a composer. The first performance of Falstaff took place at La Scala in Milan to great success. This was in 1893, the composer's eightieth year!

In 1897 Verdi collects together and finishes his Quattro Pezzi Sacri (Four Sacred Pieces). The themes are all standard traditional Roman Catholic forms, at times luminously dressed in Verdi's ever progressing orchestral style. The four pieces are usually performed in the following order:

1. Ave Maria (unaccompanied chorus, in Latin, composed 1889)
(Orchestra e coro del teatro alla Scala, Daniel Barenboim, Teatro alla Scala. 22 dicembre 2009)
2. Stabat Mater (orchestra and chorus, in Latin, composed 1896-1897)
(Orchestra and chorus of National University of Mexico, directed by Enrique Ricci, Mexico City, April 2003)
[PART 1]  
[PART 2] 
3.Laudi alla Vergine Maria (unaccompanied female voices, in Italian, composed 1886-1888)
(Angelica Leánykar and the Angelica Girls' Choir
Vezényel / Conductor: GRÁF Zsuzsanna
MOM Művelődési Központ Kupolaterme (Budapest, Hungary)
6 March 2009)
4. Te Deum (orchestra and double chorus, in Latin, composed 1895-1896)
(Orchestra and chorus of National University of Mexico, directed by Enrique Ricci, Mexico City, April 2003)
[PART 2]
It seems a worthwhile question to ask why Verdi decided to bring these works together when he was known for so long to be a confirmed sceptic. Was he perhaps having second thoughts? After all, he had seen just how quickly and savagely death came and went through his own life. At a very ripe old age for the times, was Verdi perhaps coming face to face with his own imminent departure? This music with its very clear searching magnificence remains to my ears some of the most astounding music of his entire output!

In 1900 the King of Italy was assassinated which deeply affected him. Then in January 1901, the first year of the dawning 20th century, the composer suffered a stroke and died within a week. He was 87 years old.

I vividly recall my first introduction to Verdi when I was young. Of course I was taken to the opera, but before that I had visited some business associates of one of my mentors; a family that was certainly committed to a music I knew existed but of which I hadn't really any first hand knowledge. It was of course opera, operatic singing and the music was all by Verdi. It was warm, robust, succulent music. If Rossini was a spaghetti composer, Verdi was a composer for dishes of greater substance, thicker sauces, meatier, with a unique and unforgettable poignancy, as if while others might seem more superficially gifted than Verdi, few of them really knew what it felt like to be truly alive. If you get nothing else from acquaintance with any of Verdi's great operas, you will encounter real feelings, real love, real sorrow, real pain, all on a very human and eloquent scale, so much so that in art some things just aren't done any better. Those who consider Verdi, not just among the greatest composers of all time, but THE greatest composer of all time, certainly have good reasons for their undying loyalty and affection for the greatest opera composer of all time.

Verdi's operas each take a few hours to perform. Those interested in Verdi should best check out their local opera companies for scheduled performances of his greatest works, there will be many as his appeal is undying to this day. But here are a few of my favourites:

The overture to La Forza del Destino (1862)
New York Philharmonic, Alan Gilbert conductor, 2011)

and after that, one would normally sit back (or forward) as the curtain rises above the orchestra pit, the stage set brightens and this great tragic opera begins.

And then, who could possibly forget the Drinking Song that opens La Traviata (1853)? Here is my favourite tenor, Placido Domingo and Teresa Stratas to perform it in a very pretty opera cinema production directed by Franco Zeffirelli.

Glyndebourne Festival Opera
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Bernard Haitink, conductor

When you attend to your next Verdi opera (if you haven't been yet, you really are missing something, particularly if the opera company recognizes they are playing with real emotional dynamite rather than tired saltpetre) be prepared for quite a few surprises. Study the progress of his characters through the dramas he has quintessentially distilled for your delectation. If the production is any good at all, you'll have something to remember fondly for many years to come.

Just as a natural diet requires variety, a musical diet cannot be maintained on intellectually rigorous material (many of the works of J.S. Bach for instance) and requires a little Joe Green (Giuseppe Verdi) to give a musician balance and greater emotive depth.
Verdi's Masonic photo

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Piano Sonatas of Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Integral Edition Series

Schubert at the Piano, by Gustav Klimt
Sometimes we all just need somewhere to go, somewhere to take our minds away from the common grind of everyday concerns (or perhaps in my case to recover from another Wagner encounter). One place we have long advocated is to have recourse to these often quite surprising compositions by one of the greatest among “classical” music composers of what today some prefer to call the “First Vienna School” as a way to group together Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and others; the “classical” composers.

Any of Franz Schubert's piano sonatas are longer than any Mozart or Haydn would have considered manageable, and even most Beethoven sonatas are not nearly as long. If as a pianist, you decide to take the plunge into any of them, be prepared for some moderate to difficult work, but a uniquely rewarding experience of pianism for your efforts.

Schubert's sonatas were not nearly as well known as Beethoven's or Mozart's during their lifetimes. Beethoven's all have opus numbers and dates of first publication, which of course meant that they were influential on Schubert who was 27 years younger than Beethoven, in whose shadow Schubert's music grew in gratitude and tribute. Schubert's sonatas should be better known, but we are confronting a few interesting problems regarding them that do not afflict the works of the previous classical masters.

We'll begin with those sonatas published during Schubert's lifetime (and some not) following the order in the first "integral" edition of Schubert's sonatas by Breitkopf and Härtel, published in 1888, available in the USA in a reprint from Dover. You'll notice as we go along that some of the links referenced refer to sonatas with different numbering systems. Nevertheless the order in which they are presented here is the oldest standard numbering system used for them and we should probably stick to it from now on.

What this will mean is that after this “integral” set, and there are fifteen of these sonatas, other sonatas will turn up which may have been written earlier than the first one in this series. That should not matter, the first Schubert sonata would hereafter be the E Major written around his 18th birthday in 1815. At the time of its writing, Beethoven, always a model for Schubert, was in his forties, musically very active in that crucial year which brought an end to Napoleon's military ambitions.

Some links, where they contain the performance of an entire sonata, are under the title of the sonata. At other times, links are found under the various headings for each movement. The second group of posthumously published sonatas will follow in a future article.


1815: “Late Winter” and “Late Summer” from the composer's youth

Sonata #1 in E Major (February, 1815) D. 157 


Schubert was just 18 years old when he wrote this, and since others would follow this same year we might dub this the “Late Winter” sonata to keep track of it, indeed there are references to slips and slides in the first movement. It's certainly a demanding first sonata, more intricate and nuanced than Mozart's, Haydn's or Beethoven's early sonatas, but it derives from all of their stylistic contributions to the form, and of course in the city where they all lived and knew so well; Vienna, the late 18th and early 19th century capital of the multi-cultural Hapsburg Austrian Empire, not really a melting pot society, hence it was gradually disintegrating under the weight of war debt and the effects of war. Under the circumstances, this work is an extraordinary gem. But then again, they all are.
2. Andante

Arcadi Volodos, piano (Rec: live in Amsterdam, 8/18/2001)

Sonata #2 in C Major (September, 1815) D. 279

This is a companion sonata to the previous one, and composed later his 18th year; hence our calling this one the “Late Summer” sonata. In this performance, the 4th movement is a presumption on Noël Lee's part. It is not printed in the standard Breitkopf and Härtel edition (which is available in the USA published by Dover) however it does appear in the Henle Verlag URTEXT edition of Schubert's sonatas, which does not follow the order of the “integral” edition; these sonatas open the third volume of their three volume set and after the Sonata D. 279, they print the Allegretto -fragment D. 346. However, and it does say this on his recording, this is an unfinished fragment which Noël Lee completed. You can get a copy of it in the Henle edition but completed by Paul Badura-Skoda so in particular the ending will be different. This Allegretto was written supposedly sometime in 1816 when Schubert would have been 19 years old.

2. Andante
3. MENUETTO, Allegro vivace - Trio
4. [Allegretto] Allegretto (fragment D. 346 C Major)
(completed by Noël Lee)

Noël Lee, piano (Rec: rare Vinyl LP - stereophonique - made in France, recorded 1970. Piano is a Steinway.

1817: Mozart and Beethoven revisited

Sonata #3 in A Flat Major (May, 1817) D. 557

This sonata, though perhaps less demanding than the previous two, is Schubert's extension of some essentially Mozart inspired ideas; pretty phrases rather than melodies, punctuated by episodic figures. In the year it was written this would be largely looking back to composers who inspired him the most. He is also extending the range of these same classical devices, showing them in different lights than these composers could possibly have imagined.

One reason Schubert is important to our greater understanding of this “classical” music, is his contribution to the emotional range available through very subtle shading of tone leading, suspensions, tension, silence, all kinds of things that are usually extremely subtle and often profound in ways unachieved by the previous classical masters. Mostly one is surprised by this unique harmonizing element that is particularly Schubert's voice. Indeed, it sometimes comes as a shock to recognize that someone as well known as Franz Schubert is so deservedly well regarded for their contributions to music.

1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante
3. Allegro

Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) , piano.  In this set of Schubert sonatas, this one is listed as Sonata #5.

Sonata #4 in e minor (June 1817) D. 566 & D. 506

Much of the basic technique for this sonata stems from Beethoven, yet Schubert has here, and with all of these sonatas, clearly found his own voice, singing much of the time. There are problems getting the music together for this sonata. Only its first movement appears in the integral (Dover) edition. The “complete” sonata is available in the Henle Verlag URTEXT edition, Band III as Sonata #5.

This sonata has four movements, and they are in the order listed, with the last part of D. 506 serving as a rondo finale. The full D. 506 includes a preparatory Adagio. I could find no performances of this part of this sonata on line (why am I surprised?) .Perhaps I'll get the Adagio and at least read through the complete D. 506. In any case it was composed along with this sonata and good copies are around to prove it. The Op. 145 pieces were published posthumously.

The rest of it was played at a live concert by Sviatoslav Richter in 1964. I've linked the movements as they belong in sequence rather than as Richter plays them; he plays 3. Scherzo then concludes with 2. Allegretto.

1. Moderato 
2. Allegretto 
3. SCHERZO, Allegro vivace - Trio
4. RONDO, Allegretto (Op. 145 #2 : D. 506 B)

SviatoslavRichter (1915-1997), piano. He was 49 at the time of this performance.

Sonata #5 in B Major (August, 1817) Op. 147 D. 575

There are some mysteries in this sonata, almost anticipations of Mendelssohn and Schumann, Schubert looking on into the future, singing at least four distinct themes in the first movement's exposition, extending the form as far as he can. He's just 20 and has already written a lot in this same vein, but the shading in this sonata is different. The integral edition (Dover) includes the complete score; all 4 movements. Henle Verlag has it in Band I listed as Sonata #3. The late great American pianist, Eunice Norton in her 1992 performance certainly captures much of this music's poetic charm in this beautiful performance.

1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Andante
3. SCHERZO, Allegretto - Trio 
4. Allegro giusto

EuniceNorton (1908-2005), pianist. She was 84 when she played this, a remarkable achievement and legacy!

[13 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.] 

Sonata #6 in a minor (1817) Op. 164 D. 537

This is one of the more recognizable early Schubert sonatas. Yes, it derives plenty of inspiration from Beethoven, but also oddly predicts some of the directions pianism would be going, things Grieg might be doing fifty years later. The second movement will have you thinking of perhaps the same theme Schubert uses to make a grand finale for one of his later sonatas (#14 in this series). Yes, Schubert apparently really liked this little song and used it in two of his piano sonatas.

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli played this as part of his 7 April 1991 concert in Lugano, Switzerland. The piano was certainly a Steinway D. The entire thing appears as close to how he plays it in the integral edition. Henle presents this one as Sonata #1 at the beginning of Band I.

1. Allegro ma non troppo
2. Allegretto quasi Andantino

3. Allegro vivace

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli
(1920–1995), pianist. 72 years old when he played this heroic performance.

Sonata #7 in E Flat Major (1817) Op. 122 D. 568


Among Schubert's most popular and recognizable sonatas, the opening phrase reminds oddly of the beginning of the commercial Christmas song, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Many great pianists have played it. Wilhelm Kempff played this one and in his set he has it as the 7th sonata. He repeats back to the development of the first movement, which does not appear in the score in either the integral edition (Dover) or the Henle URTEXT edition, but it really doesn't matter. Henle Verlag has this one in Band I as Sonata #2. There is a transcription of this same sonata minus the 3rd movement transcribed to D Flat Major. It's theorized that Schubert wrote the 3ed movement at some later date.

1. Allegro moderato 

2. Andante molto
3. MENUETTO, allegretto - Trio 

4. Allegro moderato

1823-1825: A Young Man's Recognition of Mortality

Sonata #8 in a minor (September, 1823) Op. 143 D. 784

This justly famous sonata was written after one of Schubert's near misses with death the previous year. He was only 26 but had never been very fit or in good health. A fate theme of a kind appears in the first movement and is met with sublime resignation. In this live recording of one of his 1960's Carnegie Hall performances, Sviatoslav Richter chooses a tempo some of us would consider way too slow for the Andante, but by choosing this slower tempo, the piano has more time to sing and this performance is a stand-out because this slower tempo allows for each voice in Schubert's embellished almost orchestral writing to find its natural place in the musical tapestry. The finale has the distinction of forming a setting for one of Schubert's most tender songs, where besides its uses in the main sonata allegro form, it is repeated within what would be an extended coda similar to the finale of a piano concerto.

To me, this sonata is Schubert's answer to his impending mortality, for after this his rate of composition, as if he hasn't been writing non-stop for years, if anything accelerates, as if he knows he hasn't long and will nonetheless function as music's willing amanuensis, faithfully taking down, much as Mozart did, and leaving nothing out, all the great music he would write until he was unable to continue. Whatever hardships Schubert suffered in his brief life, some things become apparent after hearing this sonata; Schubert met his fate with resigned faith and whether he knew love in the grandest sense or not, that embedded song in the last movement certainly indicates that he knew love from someone, even if it had only been from his mother.

1. Allegro giusto
[A. Exposition] 
[B. Development, Recapitulation]
2. Andante 
3. Allegro vivace

Sonata #9 in a minor (1825) Op. 42 D. 845


Companions in a way, the two a minor sonatas. Wilhelm Kempff's performance is certainly a good standard one, particularly regarding dynamics and balance, rather peppy in fact in the first movement. One wouldn't really like to push the envelopes too far in any of these pieces or one gets strange results. Careful observance of dynamic markings helps greatly in the turning of phrases, in the case of Schubert often starting in one hand and ending in another. There is often a tremendous tendency to overplay Schubert when the music itself certainly contains enough weight in and of itself and should never be overplayed. It is much better to get oneself to sing through the playing of all of this music, as indeed did the young composer himself when he was in the process of writing it all down. The theme and variations second movement is one of those quintessential Schubert delights.

1. Moderato  

2. Andante pocomoto
3. SCHERZO, Allegro vivace - Trio, Un poco più lento 

4. RONDO: Allegro vivace [There are some problems with the beginning of this recording that soon clear up]

Wilhelm Kempff, piano.
(In this set of Schubert sonatas, this one is listed as Sonata #16)

Sonata #10 in A Major (Summer, 1819) Op. 120 D. 664


A sheer delight! This popular Schubert sonata is here played by the Austrian pianist Ingrid Haebler with some rare insights. Although it comes here in order of publication, this sonata is out of sequence and precedes the last two.  It is warm and sunny in comparison to many of the moods of the last two.

1. Allegro moderato 

2. Andante
3. Allegro

Ingred Haebler (1929- ) This recording was made in 1969 when she was 49. It is also listed as Sonata #13. 

[13 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.]

The Last Five: 1825-1828

Sonata #11 “Gasteiner” in D Major (August, 1825 at Bad Gastein) Op. 53 D. 850

With a burst of exuberance, this sonata begins with one of the most idiomatically complex and manic demonstrations yet of Schubert's art at the age of 28 or ten years since the first sonata in this series. I don't expect too many people will want to rush out there and try to learn this piece because it is very difficult. To hear it to best advantage, you need someone with the power and depth of a Sviatoslav Richter. The second movement takes you into some very unexpected places including rhythmic elements which must be carefully observed. The theme that is embroidered this time is almost anthem like in its warm solemnity. Richter's read is quite moving. The final two movements are almost exhausting in their whimsical character. You've never heard a classical piano sonata quite like this one. Perhaps more than any of his previous sonatas, this one establishes Schubert's often eccentric style.

1. Allegro vivace
2. Con moto
3. SCHERZO, Allegro vivace - Trio
4. RONDO: Allegro moderato

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), piano. Referenced as Sonata #17. This recording probably dates from 1956 when he was in his early forties.

[12 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.] 
[1 June, 14: Sergey Koudriakov's performance:
1. Allegro vivace
2. Con Moto [1] ... [2] 

Sonata #12 in G Major (October, 1826) Op. 78 D. 894

Serene, perhaps in the way the last sonata had been tumultuous, let's hear the way Claudio Arrau played it; subtlety itself. The slower tempos allow the piano more time to sing and that should be the abiding emphasis here. Schubert, ever the singer of songs, is at his best here. Never overplay any of this as it will ruin the beautiful flow of mood throughout.

1. Molto moderato e cantabile
2. Andante
3. MENUETTO, Allegro moderato - Trio
4. Allegretto

Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), piano. This is listed as Sonata #18 in his last session recording

[13 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.]
[15 Dec, 13: Alfred Brendel's performance here.]
[26 Dec, 13: Radu Lupu's performance here.]

Sonata #13 in c minor (September, 1828) D. 958


This sonata written just two months before his death might just as well be linked to Beethoven's Op. 13 “Pathetique” sonata in the same key, though Schubert rarely gets himself as worked up and there's plenty of contrapuntal writing pitting his endless song against tougher episodic elements, the repetition of chords varying tonal colouring being ever present. But Schubert's subtleties in every detail mark a clear departure from his mentor's style. This sonata concludes with an impressive, no stunning tarantella, as only Schubert would have rendered it, with a deep pause at the heart of it and devilish piano trickery throughout. Murray Perahia is absolute master of this music, his performance is brilliant throughout and his interpretations definitely worth emulating.

1. Allegro  

2. Adagio
3. MENUETTO, Allegro - Trio  

4. Allegro [Tarantella!]

MurrayPerahia (1947- ), piano. This featured performance was recorded 'live' at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, 22 June 2003 (56 years old). 

[13 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.] 
[15 Dec, 13: Alfred Brendel's performance here.]
[17 Dec, 13: Wilhelm Kempff's performance here.]

Sonata #14 in A Major (September, 1828) D. 959

Form has been revolutionized with this sonata and composers (even modern ones) please take note: In the first movement, Schubert has embedded a development section inside the exposition (and in the recapitulation too)! The development section for the whole first movement is a rhapsody allowing him to sing his heart out! I like Maurizio Pollini's performance of this sonata, especially of the Andantino, which contains Schubert's most impassioned (and on some level even angry) outburst, surrounded by a bitter sweet lullaby, a lullaby for the dying perhaps? The finale is an immense sonata allegro using the same song that was used in the 2nd movement of Sonata #6 in this series, as its primary and recurring theme. Schubert stretches the form in this movement; there is a lot of rhapsodising, developments, unexpected continuations and you want it that way, a heart rending never ending melody.

1. Allegro
2. Andantino
3. SCHERZO, Allegro vivace - Trio, Un poco più lento
4. RONDO, Allegretto

Maurizio Pollini (1942- ), piano. Pollini was 41 when this performance was recorded in December, 1983 at the Musikverein, Großer Saal, in Vienna. 

[12 Dec, 13: Christian Zacharias' performance here.]

Sonata#15 in B Flat Major (September, 1828) Op. Post. D. 960


This piano sonata, along with the previous two, was written barely two months before Schubert died. The English pianist Clifford Curzon delivers a slightly faster pulsed version for the first movement than is customary and I like the improvement; the long phrased themes float over the chords. The second movement is what? Is it his own dirge? Does he know yet, certainly he must, that he is dying? Where is the hopeful and robust theme he places in the middle of this movement leading him? He changes a key and it almost sounds more hopeful, but that is not very realistic; a bitter sweet sad compromise is reached at the end. The two concluding movements have always struck me as incredibly light compared with the first two movements, though clever, suave and wonderfully conceived.

1. Molto moderato
2. Andante sostenuto  
3. SCHERZO, Allegro vivace con delicatezza - Trio
4. Allegro ma nontroppo

Clifford Curzon (1907-1982), piano. This performance was recorded on 30 June 1968. He was 61 years old.

[13 Dec, 13: Lazar Berman's performance here.]

Thank-you for taking the time to explore the pianistic universe within the Schubert piano sonatas with me. He wrote more than this standard set and we shall review them in a future post.

Also see: Schubert's Unfinished Piano Sonatas