Schubert’s “Gesang der Geister über den Wassern”: Song of the Spirits Over the Waters

At the Staubbach Falls, west of the village of Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, an Alpine stream plunges over a jagged cliff and cascades 974 feet to the valley floor below. A visit to this topographical wonder in October of 1779 inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to write Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (“Song of the Spirits over the Waters”). Set in six stanzas, the poem compares the mystical journey of the soul to the cycle of …

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Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major, Mitsuko Uchida

Franz Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in A Major is filled with sublime, crystalline melodies which unfold with an inherent sense of logic. It’s music filled with sunshine and the joy of youth. At the same time, there is an underlying and lingering wistfulness. The 22-year-old Schubert wrote this music during the summer of 1819 while vacationing in the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. Surrounded by an “unimaginably lovely” landscape, Schubert composed the …

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Schubert’s Piano Quintet in A Major, “The Trout”: Music of Sunshine and Youth

In the summer of 1819, the 22 year old Franz Schubert went on vacation to the idyllic Upper Austrian city of Steyr. He was joined by the noted baritone, Johann Michael Vogl, a close friend and a tireless champion of the young composer’s songs. In elated letters, Schubert described the picturesque, bucolic landscape and the presence of eight lovely young women, “nearly all of them pretty.” This was the youthful, carefree environment in which the Piano …

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Schubert’s “An Die Musik”: An Ode to the Art of Music

An die Musik (“To Music”) is Schubert’s moving ode to the art of music. Composed in March of 1817, the song can be heard as a deeply contemplative prayer of gratitude. The vocal line engages in a canonic dialogue with an equally important voice in the piano’s lower register. The music is gently propelled forward by pulsating harmony. Using the most sublimely simple means, this brief song inhabits a space of dignity …

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Remembering Christa Ludwig

Christa Ludwig, the German dramatic mezzo-soprano, has passed away. She was 93. Ludwig was one of the most significant and distinguished singers of the twentieth century “with a voice of exquisite richness and, when needed—breathtaking amplitude.” (Ted Libbey, NPR) She made her debut in Frankfurt at the age of 18, shortly after the Second World War. Her celebrated roles included Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Kundry in Wagner’s Parsifal, Leonora in Beethoven’s …

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Schubert’s Fifth Symphony: In Search of “Magic Tones”

On June 13, 1816 the 19-year-old Franz Schubert wrote in his diary, This day will haunt me for the rest of my life as a bright, clear, and lovely one. Gently, and as from a distance, the magic tones of Mozart’s music sound in my ears. With what alternate force and tenderness, with what masterly power did Schlesinger’s playing of that music impress it deep, deep in my heart! Thus do these …

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Schubert’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in G Major, D. 894: Paul Lewis in Concert

The music of Franz Schubert inhabits a unique and magical world, distinct from any other composer. While Beethoven often grabs us roughly by the collar and throws us onto an exhilarating and ferocious musical rollercoaster ride, Schubert gives us a radically different experience. He invites us into a quiet, sensuous space filled with crystalline melodies, conversing voices, and moments of deep mysticism. Sudden, effortless harmonic shifts and modulations open up new, unexpected dramatic vistas. …

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