The Unassuming Genius of Franz Schubert

A few nights ago, a quick (but rewarding) YouTube session — instigated by a friend’s casual remark on the “Mozarty-ness” of Franz Schubert’s 5th Symphony at the live concert he was attending — reminded me of something I have forgotten with demoralizing regularity:

Franz Schubert was a genius.

The fact that I routinely forget the truth of the above statement seems somehow fitting. Schubert’s life was shockingly short — few epitaphs are as accurate as the Grillparzer phrase found on his original tombstone: “Here music has buried a treasure, but even fairer hopes.” — sorrowful, backbreaking and largely unrewarded — as one biographer recounts, “It is calculated that Schubert had never made more than £100 a year. At any rate, he died leaving not enough to pay the expenses of his funeral.” — and conducted (for the most part) out of the spotlight, especially in comparison with many of his contemporaries. So I’m hardly the first person who allowed him to slip through the cracks. (I think it’s at least partially because his pieces never feel like they’re aggressively vying for my attentions. They’re fantastic, but rarely ostentatiousAnd besides, my musical tastes have always gently tended to the Baroquian, so Classical-and-Beyond composers regularly fall into unfair disuse.)

Yet none of these facts serve to justify my neglect. Because when it comes to Schubert, there’s simply no excuse. His music is eminently accessible, melodic and memorable, often deeply spiritual, and capable of packing an enormous emotional punch.

Here’s the aforementioned 5th, which is wonderfully cheery, vibrant, and lyrical stuff. And yes, Mozarty. (For some reason, it has always reminds me of the theme to the Beeb’s wonderful “Miss Marple” series, staring Joan Hickson. I don’t know why. …except that I’m weird.)

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The 9th Symphony is a towering work, and one which has always felt more Beethoveneqsue than Mozarty to me. And while we’re at it, let’s be sure not to forget the 8th Symphony, which will be particularly recognizable to Minority Report fans. Plus, the Lied are amazing. As are the Sonatii. As is almost any other Schubert work you’ll find, for that matter.

But for me, the final Schubertian word will always be “The Trout.”

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About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.

  • Tim in Cleveland

    I love his lieder, especially Nacht und Traume:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9n9SDT_oQM

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      That introduction from Gerald Moore is great, Tim.

  • Serena Grimm Mohun
    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/summathissummathat Joseph Susanka

      Gorgeous, Serena! And I love the fact that it’s sung by a range of voices. (Gedda’s a tenor; Ameling’s a soprano; there are bass and baritone versions floating around, as well.)

  • enness

    I forgot I’d also read this post. This day keeps getting better.

    Some composers seem to get an incredible gift for melody, in particular. I seem to remember reading that Beethoven really struggled to craft a good one (from his perspective, anyway).


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