Michael Henderson on Schubert

A nice little encomium to Franz Schubert, coupled with some bitching about how the world’s gone downhill since. Let’s stick to the encomium:

It is unwise to claim he was the greatest composer, but it is the unvarnished truth to say he is loved as no other, and for fairly obvious reasons. There is not a single false note in his music, particularly his chamber music, which ranks alongside that of his hero, Beethoven – who, oddly enough, he didn’t know, even though they walked the same streets.

What you hear in Schubert is what you hear in Chekhov’s plays and stories: the unfathomable mystery of existence, treated with the pitch-perfect ear of one who understands the fragility of life, and the vulnerability and yearning of each human soul. It is also important to note what you don’t hear. There is no bombast, no vanity, no "leading on". The music springs naturally, fountain-like, from an open heart.

Maxim Gorky, grumpy and a tiny bit jealous of Chekhov, complained that "when you mention Anton Pavlovich, people sigh as though a baby deer had just walked into the room". That is how friends regarded Schubert, too, and how generations of music-lovers have responded to his work. Unlike Beethoven, he didn’t want to change the world, and yet, in his lyrical way, he scaled the emotional peaks that Ludwig climbed more dramatically.

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