The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Why is Franz Schubert so appealing these days? Pianist Paul Lewis reflects on music from “another planet” | February 27, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

I guess like fashion trends or cultural fads, the interest in certain composers comes and goes, depending on big anniversaries and other variables.

But I’m not sure what explains the current revival on interest in the music of Franz Schubert (below).

I like to think that with so much strife and turmoil in the world and at home, we hunger for more humane music. Beethoven, whom Schubert worshipped, is about power and thinking big and being radical; Schubert, on the other hand, is about humanity and beauty and intimacy.

I know I am endlessly drawn to Schubert in my own amateur playing and these days just can’t get enough of him . Others seem to share my fixation. Alfred Brendel’s complete digital cycle of piano music has just been released in a budget box – a good sign of popular demand. I also see lots of Schubert on concert programs and in new recordings. Early in January, for example, pianist Emanuel Ax and friends performed an-Schubert program at Alice Tully Hall. And Matthias Goerner is doing a multi-volume Schubert song set for Harmonia Mundi.

You can also look at pianist Paul Lewis (below), who was a student of another master interpreter of Schubert Alfred Brendel.

The award-winning and critically acclaimed Lewis won accolades and awards for his live performances and recordings of the complete cycles of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas and five piano concerts, to say nothing of his solo Liszt CDs and his Mozart piano quartets and his sensitive accompanying of the singer Mark Padmore in Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

But now the young British pianist is about to embark on recording the complete late works of Schubert, which he is first playing on a world tour that recently took him to Chicago for the first of three appearances this winter and spring. (See a review of the first of the three Chicago concerts below.)

Lewis (below), an articulate speaker as well as player, recently gave a long, fascinating and intelligent interview about Schubert to the Guardian.

Here it is:

It makes me anxious for the recordings, especially of the shorter works like the Impromptus, Dances and the “Moments Musicaux.” (Lewis has already recorded the last three sonatas and a couple of others, though one wonders whether he will redo them and add to them for this cycle.)

What do you think of Schubert?

Of Paul Lewis?

Do you have favorite pieces by Schubert?

Why do you think Schubert’s music is so attractive or appealing right now?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music


  1. Previously I’d not been a Schubert fan because I’d read that he was something of an imbiber, but my favorite of his compositions is his symphony . . . is it called the “Great”? All I can remember is that it has some terrific trombone parts. I played 2d trombone in the Palos Verde (CA) Peninsula Symphony when it was programmed several years ago. I have excerpt books that I thought contained virtually all the famous symphonic trombone parts, but this Schubert isn’t in them. I’m unsure why but I loved playing that piece.

    Comment by Larry Retzack — March 8, 2011 @ 11:16 pm

    • Hi Larry,
      The Schubert symphony you refer to is generally known as the 9th or “Great.”
      He stretched his symphonic bounbdaries in it.
      But you really must get to know the string quartets, the piano trios, the cello quintet (to be performed this Saturday night by the Ancora, see today’s posting) and the piano sonatas, Impromptus and Moments Musicaux as well as the many songs.
      Schubert is a wonderfully rich vein of masterpieces to mine, and his music is so human and humane.
      Do give his work a second chance. You won’t regret it.
      I have come to love it more than Beethoven’s, just as I love compassion more than power.
      As always, thanks for sharing your personal take on things and bravely admitting things others might hide.
      Best wishes,

      Comment by welltemperedear — March 9, 2011 @ 10:09 am

  2. Thanks for the link to the Guardian interview with Paul Lewis.

    I heard the first installment in his Schubert cycle in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and was impressed by his sensitivity and poetic connection to Schubert’s muse. I only wished that some of the more heroic “mountain-top” moments where Schubert really does ask for a transcendent fortissimo had been more extrovert .. Lewis seemed almost always to pull back from these, especially in the D major Sonata, which is full of them. But his soft playing was ravishing, especially in the 2nd of the 3 Klavierstucke, one of my great favorites, and he brought wonderful orchestral colors to the unfinished C major sonata.

    Why do we love this music so much? Because Schubert is the most compassionate and companionable of composers….a cherished friend through life’s joys and sorrows. As you hear him or play him, you feel that here is a great spirit who offers unbounded joy as well as the cathartic experience of looking unflinchingly into the deepest grief.

    So thank you, Jake, for affording your Schubertian readers an opportunity to express our gratitude and our love for this wonderful music. “Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir!”

    Comment by Bill Lutes — February 27, 2011 @ 10:21 am

    • Hi Bill,
      Thanks for relaying your firsthand impressions and observations.
      You are a very discerning listener and I find your comments insightful. They help not only in listening to Schubert by Lewis and others, but also in laying Schubert.
      You are absolutely right in why Schubert appeals.
      His compassion, empathy and humaneness or humanity come though so clearly.
      I would much prefer to spend time with Schubert, as man, than with Beethoven.
      Beethoven seems more like the French Revolution to me, Schubert more like the Velvet Revolution– to draw a comparison.
      Plus his gift for melody brings me closer to him.
      Beethoven conquers and Schubert submits.
      It is the clench and shaking fist versus the open and extended hand.
      IOr so it strikes much of the time.
      Thank you so much for reading and replying.
      Please do report back if you go to more of Lewis’ Schubert programs in Chicago

      Comment by welltemperedear — February 27, 2011 @ 11:53 am

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