Classical Chat: Schubert's world of pain and joy

In a tragically-short life which ended at the age of just 31 Schubert poured out an extraordinary torrent of painfully beautiful music.

Friday, 1st June 2018, 4:44 pm
Updated Friday, 1st June 2018, 4:47 pm
Franz Schubert

Although he was dismissed for some time following his death the extraordinary qualities of his composing are now clear.

Related: Beethoven the master of dramaAll of Schubert’s work is dominated by melody, the memorable and haunting tunes he crammed into the songs (or lieder) which he could turn out seemingly at will. Altogether he turned out more than 600 of them.

But he could also write virtually every type of music: large symphonies for orchestra, chamber music, solo piano works and much else besides. Only concertos and operas eluded him.

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Here’s a few places to start enjoying this wealth of music where nothing is quite what it seems on the surface:

The Great Symphony. Sometimes listed as his eighth and sometimes his ninth, the Great is Schubert’s most masterful orchestral work. A massive, glowing canvas of sound with enigmatic woodwind writing in the first movement and a rolling third movement.

String Quartet No.14 (Death and the Maiden). His darkest work for four string players which takes cues from the song of the same name. The ending is a frantic dance of death.

The Trout Quintet. Another one with a movement based on a song tune, this beautifully places the piano part high to complement the double bass. The music flits between joy and bittersweet thoughts.

Winterreise. Schubert’s towering song cycle for voice and piano follows a solitary wanderer on a despairing trudge into the abyss. The final song alone, where he wonders if he should go with a rustic hurdy-gurdy player, qualifies this for masterpiece status.

The Wanderer Fantasy. This isn’t really typical of Schubert’s rather dreamlike, thinking-out-loud piano writing style but it’s tremendous fun, with a showiness not often found in his music.