Another Birthday To Which Honor (And Another “Top 10” List) Must Be Given

Yes, just as I did with Mozart a few days ago, I indulge myself (and hopefully entertain more than irk) my readers. I really was going to forego this exercise in innocent futility, but last night’s “Schubertiade” at Mills Hall thoroughly inspired me. Which reminds me: Look tomorrow for my review of Friday night’s “Final Forte” with the Madison Symphony and four teenaged concerto competitors, and on Tuesday the “Schubertiade” review will post.

10.  The “Arpeggione” Sonata. It seems so like Schubert that he would lavish a large handful of beautiful melodies on an instrument that, even in his day, must have been clearly on the edge of extinction. Yes, one is more likely to hear this typically tuneful work on a cello, but I fell in love with it on clarinetist Richard Stoltzman’s debut album, released just around the time I graduated from high school in 1973.

9. Octet. Proof that Schubert did not only pour out melodic works of symphonic lengths for orchestras and string ensembles. If you’ve never heard this work before…I envy you that first hearing!

8. Shepherd on the Rock. I am so thankful that Schubert composed this heavenly 9-minute work where a wordless clarinet part can truly complement a great soprano. I performed it twice—about 25 years apart! Be sure and see the Schubertiade review for another perspective…

7. Piano Trio No. 1. My first exposure to this came on a set of four various piano trios played by Eugene Istomin, Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose. For years I couldn’t imagine another such work as lovely; then I finally heard Schubert’s second piano trio. But this one will always hold a special place in my heart and ears.

6. Symphony No. 8, “Unfinished.” A no-brainer, and just having the chance to play the first clarinet part in a high school orchestra would have buried the work deep into me for the rest of my life. But the clincher was seeing Carlo Maria Giulini’s penultimate program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1982. This was the opening work, and I will never forget the sight of his baton barely moving as he stared with laser-like intensity at the double basses; nor will I forget that haunting, hushed opening that his minimal motions coaxed out of them. It was a performance that reminded one that, no matter how many great vocal works Schubert produced, some of the greatest music truly transcends any words at all. P.S. The second half of the concert was Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde!

5.  Die Winterreise. I chose this for the list, because I don’t know how in the world to choose individual Schubert songs, or how many to include. My introduction to lieder came via a beloved 3-LP set titled “The Seraphim Guide to German Lieder.” It came with one side of ten songs, Hans Hotter, Schwarzkopf, Gerald Moore—the crème de la crème. But the wonderful booklet mentioned Schubert essentially creating—and setting the standard—for the song cycle. I still don’t know how to describe how I felt hearing Winterreise from start to finish the first time.

4.  Impromptus, Op. 90. Ok, you can pick either major set. Tonight as I write it is Op. 90 in a favorite complete set by pianist Maria Joao Pires entitled “Le Voyage Magnifique.” Well said (and transcendentally played).

 3. Symphony No. 9. When Schumann made the comment about this work, “and oh! it’s heavenly length!” he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Even at that, you won’t want it to end. I’ve soaked up many a wonderful performance, live and recorded over the years; my love affair with the work started with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra.

2. String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” Another one of those moments where I happily went to the campus music library at the Crane School of Music and tackled our required listening list. I knew the song already, but the totality and emotional scope and power of the quartet transported me to a new level of listening rapture. Next trip home to Tower Records one of the purchases was this work on the DG Amadeus Quartet disc.

1. Quintet for Strings in C Major. Not only is this truly my favorite single Schubert work, it’s in a virtual toss-up for my favorite chamber work of all time (vying with the Brahms Quintet for Clarinet and Strings). I’ve always considered this a symphony for five players; I cannot think of a single emotion that is not somewhere touched upon in this eternal masterpiece.

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