Franz Schubert, 190 years gone

Franz Schubert, 190 years gone


norman lebrecht

November 20, 2018

At three o’clock in the afternoon of November 19, 1828, Franz Schubert turned to his brother Ferdinand and said ‘here, here is my end’.

No-one has ever come close to explaining the boundless miracle of Schubert’s melody, or the mystery of his character. Time for a big biography?


  • RW2013 says:

    Some miracles are better left unexplained.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Thank God “no-one has ever come close to explaining the boundless miracle of Schubert’s melody, or the mystery of his character.” There has been too much gobbledygook about Schubert, not least about some writers’ delusional phantasies about his sexual orientation. Leave the guy alone, and enjoy his music.

  • Rex Richards says:

    Wow! Is this recording available on CD?

    • RW2013 says:

      The first movement alone takes up 2 LP sides!

      • RODNEY GREENBERG says:

        No it doesn’t. The first movement ends at 24:43. Easily accommodated on one LP side. What has ruined this YouTube transfer is the clumsy philistine who allowed only three seconds pause before dubbing on the second movement. In a live recital the gap might be anything up to a minute, with Schubert’s spell hovering over the silence.

    • Dan Oren says:

      There are several recordings of this sonata with Richter

  • Geoff says:

    Richter’s recording is a piece of magic…

  • Ted says:

    Schubert is very nice, but he had a contemporary who is at least equally great: Carl Loewe. He wrote heroic ballads and odes, kind of like Wagner without the orchestra.

    Here are four samples of his different moods:





  • Bruce says:

    (a) I actually agree with RW2013 (which happens occasionally but still feels a little strange) and pFF. I totally understand the how-is-such-beauty-possible-among-the-ugliness-and-horror-of-human-existence fascination with his music, and of course we study its harmony, structure, etc; but “explain” it? Not possible. Not possible to explain while he was alive, either, just as Mozart was unexplainable.

    (b) At this point, any biography that attempted to “explain” Schubert would just boil down to the author seeking confirmation of his/ her biases or pet theories — which, even if they were true, still wouldn’t “explain” Schubert — and/ or look at his life through the lens of contemporary sociology, which also wouldn’t “explain” anything. All artists, and most “normal” people, feel some tension between their inner self and who/what society expects of them, whether it’s sexuality, religion, or joining the family law firm.

    (c) A “big biography” might be interesting & fun, but shouldn’t be expected to “explain” Schubert.

    • John Borstlap says:

      If only the ugly, the miserable, the mediocre and the evil of the world is seen and given serious consideration, and everything else is being left-out, yes – then artists like Schubert or Mozart or any artist who brings beauty and meaning into human life seems to be ‘inexplicable’. But such artists are the occasional tops of the perfectly normal way nature and life, including human life, tries to express beauty and meaning, everywhere in different degrees, and in spite of the ugliness of life and all the other things which are quite depressing. In the arts, we are only seeing the best as conspicuous expressions.

      Artists like Schubert are not the only ones adding to the beauty of the world, and human life, and civilization; there have been numerous. Only when a civilization is in decline and looses its spiritual component, any expression of artistic beauty and meaning – be it in the past or in the present – seems to be something entirely ‘unexpected’ and ‘abnormal’ and ‘mysterious’. It is the deafness, blindness and ignorance of most people creating the barriers for such attempts by nature to be realized.

      If someone like Schubert were alive today, he would be excommunicated and his work thrown in the wind, so we are very lucky that most of S’s music has, somehow, survived for posterity. And during his short life he was only appreciated as a lied composer, his other works as well-meant attempt, not more. Schumann discovered and had published S’s symphonies, which were ‘unexpected’ discoveries in the 1840s.

  • marc says:

    One of my favorite Schubert recordings in college was Richter playing the Op. 42 Sonata, saving it for the evening with lowered lights. It’s music from another world…

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I think the Richter posted here is too slow and lugubrious. Not to my taste. Try Kempff. Much better interpretation:

  • Spenser says:

    I would welcome a new, scholarly biography of Schubert.
    Is it perhaps too late in the day to convince Maynard Solomon to write it?
    Re: Richter – unsurpassable.
    Re: Carl Loewe – he’s wonderful, but sorry, Ted; I’m afraid he’s not as “at least equally great” as Schubert. There’s that little matter of the C Maj. String Quintet D. 956, among other things….

    • Mike Schachter says:

      But, as with Shakespeare, what new information is available and what new ideas are likely to emerge? I think he was an even greater loss than Mozart, he explored place in music that no-one else has done before or since.