Schubert’s “Tragic” Fourth Symphony

Some incredibly sublime music was written in the shadow of Beethoven. For a case in point, look no further than Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor. The 19-year-old Schubert completed this work in April, 1816. It didn’t receive a public premiere until 1849, more than two decades after the composer’s death. For those who rediscovered Schubert’s symphonies (including the epic Ninth), the feeling must have been something akin to finding a wad …

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Benjamin Appl: Schubert at Wigmore Hall

As a followup to Wednesday’s post, here are three excerpts from an album of Schubert songs released last year by German baritone Benjamin Appl. The album was recorded live at London’s Wigmore Hall with pianist Graham Johnson accompanying. Am Bach im Fruhling In the 1816 song, Am Bach I’m frühling, D. 361 (“By the Brook in the Spring”), we can hear the flowing brook in the piano’s triplets. The brook seems to be a …

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Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony: Haunting, Mysterious, Groundbreaking

Take a moment, hook in your best pair of headphones, maybe even close your eyes, and listen to the first haunting bars of Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished” Eighth Symphony. It begins with a single, hushed melodic line in the low strings which quickly gives way to shivering violins and darkly pulsating bass pizzicati. Then, a lamenting new voice enters- a strange, almost indistinguishable sonority which blends oboe and clarinet. Immediately, we’re drawn into …

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Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major: The Alban Berg Quartet and Heinrich Schiff

On Monday we listened to a brief sample of recordings by the late cellist Heinrich Schiff. In today’s post, I want to include one more: a soulful 1983 recording of Franz Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major in which Schiff joins the Alban Berg Quartet. The album is listed, deservedly, among EMI’s “Great Recordings of the Century.” This piece was written in 1828, in the final two months of Schubert’s life, and only received …

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Schubert’s Time-Altering Nocturne

This week, I’m playing Schubert’s monumental Ninth Symphony (the “Great”). It’s a piece which pushes the envelope towards Romanticism in some interesting ways. Can you think of any other symphony from the 1820s that starts this way with a single melodic line in the horns or uses the trombones as a prominent solo voice? The Ninth was Schubert’s last completed symphony and it was virtually unknown until Schumann and Mendelssohn rediscovered it in …

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Remembering Kurt Masur: Five Great Recordings

Conductor Kurt Masur passed away on December 19, following a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 88. Masur will be remembered for his 26-year association (beginning in 1970) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, a storied ensemble once led by Felix Mendelssohn. Kurt Masur brought powerful political, as well as musical, leadership to Leipzig. In 1981, following the destruction of the previous Gewandhaus in the fire-bombings of the Second World War forty years earlier, he …

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Josef Gingold: A Rare 1944 Profile

Earlier in the week, a Listeners’ Club reader sent me a fascinating and rare slice of American violin history. Below is music critic Russell McLauchlin’s profile of a 35-year-old Joseph Gingold which appeared in the Detroit Jewish News on December 8, 1940. Gingold had just left Toscanini’s NBC Symphony in New York to become concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony. Within a few years, he would go on to hold the same title with the Cleveland Orchestra …

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