The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: What classical music goes best with the NFL’s Super Bowl 48 football championship today? Plus, University of Wisconsin-Madison singers and instrumentalists movingly celebrate Franz Schubert in death as he was in life – with a “Schubertiade” birthday party.

February 2, 2014
11 Comments

READER POLL: The Ear wants to know what piece of classical music — if any — goes well with today’s NFL Super Bowl 48 national football championship between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks? Maybe Aram Khachaturian‘s “The Gladiators” from “Spartacus”? Leave your suggestions, with a link to a YouTube video if you can, in the COMMENTS section.

Super Bowl 48

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

January 31, 1797 was the birthdate of Franz Schubert (below), who died at only 31 on Nov. 19, 1828. So Friday night, January 31, 2014, was the 217th anniversary of his birth.

Franz Schubert writing

With her opportunity of giving a faculty recital, University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist (and singer) Martha Fischer (below, in a photo by Karin Talbot) decided to do a very Schubertian thing to mark the anniversary: Have a party. (Event photos are by The Ear.)

Martha Fischer color Katrin Talbot

In the last years of his short life, Schubert was sustained socially as well as financially by a devoted circle of friends, drawn from the cultural classes of Vienna in his day. Their spontaneous parties, which they came to call “Schubertiades” (depicted below, with Schubert at the piano, in a painting by Julius Schmid) were lively social gatherings with their focus on Schubert’s latest compositions.

Schubertiade in color by Julius Schmid

Accordingly, backed by her pianist husband, Bill Lutes, Fischer invited a number of colleagues from the UW School of Music to pay tribute to the beloved composer with a facsimile of a Schubertiade,

And so, the stage of Mills Hall (below) was fitted out with a large carpet, a standing floor lamp and circles of chairs welcomed members of the audience, to be close presences to the fun. (Alas, though, no free beer was included!)

Schubertiade 2014 stage in MIlls Hall

The constantly shifting lineup of singers involved four voice-faculty members (sopranos Mimmi Fulmer and Elizabeth Hagedorn (below top), tenor James Doing, baritone Paul Rowe) and three graduate students in voice (soprano Sarah Richardson, below bottom on the left), tenor Thomas Leighton (below bottom on the right) and baritone Jordan Wilson).

Schubertiade 2014 Elizabeth Hageborn

Schubertiade 2014 Sarah Richardson  soprano and Thomas Leighton tenor

Assuming her mezzo-soprano hat, Fischer sang two items herself, and she and Lutes rotated as piano accompanists, each demonstrating the talent and skill it takes to be a fine collaborative musician. Both of them tightly controlled the balance between voice and modern concert grand piano, never allowing the piano to drown the singers. And both pianists also matched the moods of the songs and the singers. That’s important because this concert had a lot of high-quality vocal talent, and it must be said that the student singers held their own splendidly with their faculty partners.

When one thinks about it, a great proportion of Schubert’s compositions is social music, meant for parlors and domestic music-making rather than concert situations.

That is most particularly true of his songs, and part-songs, with piano. The program offered 14 songs (with each singer having at least two solo assignments), one duet, and two part songs. The program was divided into two halves, with the general themes of “Night and Dreams” and “Love and Death.” While a couple of the songs were among Schubert’s more familiar ones (like the famous  “Die Forelle or The Trout, below as sung by baritone Jordan Wilson and also heard at the bottom in a YouTube video with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore) most were chosen artfully from among the less often-heard ones.

Schubertiade 2014 barione Jordan Wilson

Fulmer (below top) was particularly expressive in her two solos. She was, in fact, absolutely gripping in Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), a Gothic-horror scene in which a court dwarf, betrayed by his former lover, the queen, kills her and sails into oblivion. (I unashamedly admit this grim masterpiece, so compellingly designed by Schubert, is one of my favorites among his songs.) James Doing (below bottom) had just the right range of gestures and expressions to make Lachen und Weinen (Laughter and Tears) a casual expression of ironic bafflement.

Schubertiade 2014 Mimmi Fulmer BIG

Schubertiade 2014 James Doing

And Paul Rowe (below) gave Totengräbers Heimweh (Grave-Digger’s Longing) a quality of dark probing into the very prospects of human mortality that Schubert himself was learning to fear when he wrote it. But perhaps it is unfair to single out individual performances, since they were all so lovely.

Scubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Each of the program’s two halves had its own instrumental intermezzo.

In the first half, it was the simple but moving Notturno (Nocturne) for violin, cello, and piano (below) — a discarded movement from one of Schubert’s piano trios, in which violin student Alice Bartsch and cello professor Parry Karp joined Fischer in a beautiful performance.

Scubertiade 2014 Notturno

For the second half, the dynamic duo of Fischer and Lutes plunged into the ambitious and late Fantasy in F minor for piano-four hands — surely among the supreme masterpieces of all music for piano duet.

Schubertide 2014 Bil Lutes and Martha Fischer

There was one added song, however, as the finale. All the singers gathered together to sing the sublime An die Musik (To Music), but with the audience invited to join in—sustained by a reproduction of the score on the back of the texts handout — and responded with a standing ovation for all the performers (below).

Schubertiade 2014 standing ovation

This kind of sing-along trick could have been cheap, but in fact it worked beautifully, with many in the audience adding their voices, obviously caught up in the spirit of that most social, most lovable and most astounding of great composers, Franz Schubert.

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