In the last years of his short life, Franz Schubert (1797-1828) wrote his C Minor D. 958, A Major D. 959, and B-flat Major D. 960 piano sonatas. Whether or not he thought he was a dying man is unclear. Today, as the field of thanatology flourishes, three hypotheses address what carried this amazing genius off. The first centers on tertiary syphilis, an illness that generally lingers over years as spirochetes whirl around the body causing progressive mischief that can lead the mind to falter in fits and starts. The second is typhoid fever, an unlikely suspect whose symptoms are not all that different qualitatively from this month’s epidemic norovirus that may have contributed to the very few empty seats in Jordan Hall on Saturday night during Paul Lewis’s Celebrity Series recital. And finally, some scholars suggest that typhus, yet another infection, is the culprit. In contrast to syphilis, it likely would have delivered a fatal blow in a matter of days.
Given the collective knowledge of the psychiatrists and infectious disease experts I spied in the audience, combined with their rapt attention, the answer may come soon. But the differential diagnosis is also relevant when one tries to comprehend the three extraordinary sonatas. If indeed Schubert feared that his end was drawing near, he should have been subject to the feelings and moods that the psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, laid out in the late 1960s when she described five stages followed by those preparing for an untimely death: denial/isolation, followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. That makes an attractive story, and musicologists search for correlates in these sonatas, but the problem has been that at least my patients over the years could never get that order quite straight. As these sonatas by Schubert may have indicated about his emotional state, my patients tended to exhibit conflicting emotions that came, went, and sometimes repeated in no particular sequence. And what about the other option; how should one view the sonatas if Schubert had not been planning to die? If his syphilis had been quiescent, and if he hadn’t been suffering from mercury poisoning as a result of treatment, then how should that modulate one’s view of these sonatas?
Paul Lewis, the pianist from Liverpool in the UK who began to study the piano at the ripe old age of 12, is of the school that views the last sonatas as expressing the sentiments of a dying man, as he noted eloquently in a recent BMInt interview here. But the extraordinary performance we were privileged to hear did not settle the issue for me. Indeed, it deepened the mystery.
Rather than as an example of Schubertian “heavenly length,” the entire evening seemed to flash by in minutes. I cannot in recent years recall an audience so rapt, so alert, yet so silent. Perhaps that’s because Lewis has an uncommon way of invoking pregnancy: the pressing need to know what’s next to arrive. And his complexity is astonishing. On the one hand he’s an understated Brit from the academy, but he’s happy to remind you also of his roots in the city that bred the Beatles. His use of rubato is subtle; you need to listen hard to catch both ebb and flow, but they are omnipresent. He doesn’t hit you over the head with the loudest or the softest, or the slowest and the fastest. But just when you think he won’t, he whispers. And just after you wonder about the other extreme, there’s a sudden jolt. He’s didactic, and then he meditates. He denies being a “colorist for its own sake,” but invites you to peek at hues and tones across the entire spectrum. He’s stern with the piano, then strokes it as his arms cross over. He doesn’t dwell on separate qualities for the voicing of the two hands, but somehow they are invariably distinct as they tell their stories.
So, after all that, how does one characterize his playing? Taken as a whole, it’s not as monumental as Serkin or Fleisher, as tumultuous as Argerich or Horowitz, as poetic as Novaes or Rubenstein, as elegant as Pressler or Arrau, as intellectual as Schiff or Brendel, as adventurous as Sherman or Gould, or as crystalline as Pogarelich or Haskil. But it has every one of those components ready at hand, to be drawn on when he so desires. Plain and simple, he’s among the elite, and this first public Boston recital should earn him tenure in the Celebrity Series, the BSO’s annual calendar, and any chamber group that can attract him.
A word about the piano: Lewis decided to play the Steinway native to the USA that was chosen for the revitalized Jordan Hall by a committee of elite pianists, including Russell Sherman and Gabriel Chodos.
In conversation overheard after the concert, Lewis expressed delight with his choice, and no one in the audience would be surprised. It is wondrously balanced from top to bottom, and clearly its action posed no problems for Lewis. It also taught me again how sound is a function of so many variables. I sat toward the back, stage left, for the first half, and then for the second found an empty seat half way back in the middle. During the first half, the piano sounded clear, balanced, sonorous, but not particularly warm. In the second half, it was burnished, with bells pealing and overtones dancing all over the place. Go figure…
Finally, Schubert and his state of mind: It’s no clearer to me than at the beginning of the voyage Lewis created, directed and produced. At one level the entire range of human existence came and went, at times chaotically, at times with eerie calm. At another level, there was inexorable order within each sonata and within the evening as a whole. In no small part because of Lewis’s magic, one always knew when the end of a movement drew near. I vote that this is not the music of an addled brain. Beyond being sublime, it has a seemingly inexorable order, as demonstrated by an absolutely extraordinary pianist.
29 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]
There is literature, even medical literature, suggesting what Schubert’s diagnoses were, and exploring how anecdotal evidence supports one diagnosis or another. I doubt seriously that an unequivocal answer of what killed Schubert will ever come; I’m sure Dr. Delbanco doesn’t need to be reminded of the foolishness of making a diagnosis without the actual patient present in front of him (interpreting a patient or contemporary witnessed report, knowing that medical terminology is understood completely differently now than in 1828, knowing that people can be convinced they have some disease that isn’t borne out on further testing, etc). I’d add that mercury poisoning may also well have been part of what claimed his life, among many others, since that was what we had to treat syphilis at the time.
As far as whether Schubert’s awareness of his illness casts a death pall over his later works, there is no doubt that many of his later works do have morbid elements to them (Winterreise, D.958, slow movement of D.960 come to mind). However, there are also plenty of moments of blazing sunshine (the C major symphony, the C major string quartet, the cello quintet, D.959). I think this whole idea of associating an early death with premonitions in the compositions was a ruse exploited by Constanze Mozart to sell copies of her husband’s incomplete Requiem. It’s a great story, but to my mind, Schubert’s expanding horizons, expanding scale, and increasing ambition do not suggest a person who is prepared to depart this world, but someone who is just preparing to enter his artistic maturity. And I think the clearest mark of that maturity is that you can play these sonatas in ways that admit of multiple different interpretations of what it all means.
Comment by James C.S. Liu — January 16, 2013 at 11:08 am
While doctors, like everyone else, thrive on disagreement, in this case I couldn’t agree more. In particular, Dr Liu and I concur that these sonatas are not the work of an addled mind! It’s important also to remember that just as people are filled with co-existing attributes, so too are they unfortunately prone to more than one illness at a time. Beyond that, the cure is sometimes worse than the illness, as we have all seen on more than one occasion (certainly don’t have to be a doctor to be aware of that). In my review, I mentioned mercury in that light. Taking the perspective of an epidemiologist, the best likelihood is that Schubert may well have had syphilis, may well have had side effects from mercury treatment, and may well have died from yet another cause. But as Dr Liu points out also, speculation without seeing the patient almost invariably gets my profession into trouble!
Comment by tom delbanco — January 16, 2013 at 11:50 am
A second thing that gets at least this exceedingly eminent (even by Boston standards) doc ‘into trouble’ is a wholly inadequate writeup that actually is more a comment, since it so tediously covers, let us count, the pathology options, the performing artist’s hometown, a dozen-plus namedrops, the instrument, the acoustics as a function of seating, and more.
But almost nothing, really, about the music, or the performance/interpretations.
It may stand as another bookmark, I would suggest, for future BMint reviewers of another way not ever to cover an important recital.
As for flashing ‘by in minutes’, could that also be because (as I am reliably told, not being able to get tickets) the important pianist did not repeat the expositions? Can it really be so? Seriously?
Comment by David Moran — January 16, 2013 at 11:52 pm
I was very pleased to publish Tom’s excellent review. It is indeed in part a consideration of Lewis’s dramatizing claims in his interview on this site that Schubert’s last three sonatas are meditations on his expectation of an untimely death. To express skepticism as to whether they should be so freighted is great journalism.I come down on the less metaphysical interpretation. In these piece Schubert was seemingly less death obsessed than when he published his famous Opus 1 from 23 years earlier.
Lewis certainly took a lot of repeats. Without the scores I could not be sure if he took all of them, but Tom is saying that despite the pieces’ heavenly lengths, the evening merely seemed short. The finish time was something like 10:15.
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 17, 2013 at 8:56 am
Mr Moran: If you are the David Moran who has reviewed for BMint in the past, you know that the reward for your labors is two tickets to the concert. I had to come alone last Saturday, and had I known you were unable to get a ticket, I would have been delighted to give you the other one. Would have been fun to sit together and compare notes!
Comment by Tom Delbanco — January 17, 2013 at 9:51 am
What did the performances sound like?
Comment by Richard Buell — January 17, 2013 at 4:55 pm
How did it sound? Seems like that was covered.
“Lewis has an uncommon way of invoking pregnancy: the pressing need to know what’s next to arrive. And his complexity is astonishing. On the one hand he’s an understated Brit from the academy, but he’s happy to remind you also of his roots in the city that bred the Beatles. His use of rubato is subtle; you need to listen hard to catch both ebb and flow, but they are omnipresent. He doesn’t hit you over the head with the loudest or the softest, or the slowest and the fastest. But just when you think he won’t, he whispers. And just after you wonder about the other extreme, there’s a sudden jolt. He’s didactic, and then he meditates. He denies being a “colorist for its own sake,” but invites you to peek at hues and tones across the entire spectrum. He’s stern with the piano, then strokes it as his arms cross over. He doesn’t dwell on separate qualities for the voicing of the two hands, but somehow they are invariably distinct as they tell their stories.
So, after all that, how does one characterize his playing? Taken as a whole, it’s not as monumental as Serkin or Fleisher, as tumultuous as Argerich or Horowitz, as poetic as Novaes or Rubenstein, as elegant as Pressler or Arrau, as intellectual as Schiff or Brendel, as adventurous as Sherman or Gould, or as crystalline as Pogarelich or Haskil. But it has every one of those components ready at hand, to be drawn on when he so desires.
During the first half, the piano sounded clear, balanced, sonorous, but not particularly warm. In the second half, it was burnished, with bells pealing and overtones dancing all over the place. Go figure…
Comment by de novo2 — January 17, 2013 at 5:16 pm
No, no, Buell is rightly asking about the *performance*, a matter this review is inadequate to. Requoting the original ‘excellent’ writeup will not do. Stern and stroking? All that shelf-listing namedropping again? Lol. The first job is attentive reporting of details, within limits, etc. etc.
I mean, David Weininger is not, to my mind, the very strongest of the Globe’s current good stable of stringers, but for this important event, and in constrained space, he got it, and he executed:
Comment by David Moran — January 17, 2013 at 6:13 pm
So enough about the issue (if you must) of Schubert and death. What about Schubert and sex?
Here is Charles Rosen in 1994 on the findings of the then-new gay musicology:
“It is clear enough that a composer’s life and character including his sexual behavior ought to have something to do with his music. The problem is largely that homosexuality is a legal concept, not a character trait. Before we can conclude anything about Schubert and sex, we would have to know exactly what he did with which partners. Homosexual preferences can range from simple cuddling to physical mutilation. I presume — or I should like to presume — that a rapist and a foot fetishist would write different kinds of music, but I am not sure how one would go about confirming this.”
Elsewhere, Rosen once remarked that music has meaning rather than reference. For what it’s worth, this sounds plausible to me.
Comment by Richard Buell — January 17, 2013 at 7:09 pm
I looked forward to this concert with great anticipation, because Paul Lewis is one of my favorite pianists, and trepidation, because I knew I was going to witness a great crime, the elimination of the first-movement exposition repeat in the sonata in B-flat. My anticipation was more than justified, and I came away making excuses to myself for the terrible crime. I do not propose that it be decriminalized, but there are extenuating circumstances. Let me make the case for the defense.
The conventional four-movement form of larger classical-era works such as symphonies, quartets, and sonatas has a weight distribution problem. The farthest reaches of thematic and harmonic development, and the greatest burden of originality and invention, are expected to be reached in the first movement. Composers so temperamentally inclined, like Mozart, are allowed to displace this center of gravity as far as the second movement, but no further. By the third movement the seriousness of the enterprise is expected to be relieved by wit and charm and dancing, and the finale is reserved for exhilaration and virtuosic display. It is as if a grand hostess, presiding over a dinner party, had ordained that weighty matters may be discussed over the soup and the fish, but the end of he meal is a time for sweets and champagne.
This is makes for a delightful evening, but is limiting on a composer that wants to be heard above the dinner-party din. It is well-behaved music that knows its place, that does not put itself forward too much. Haydn struggled against these conventions often, Mozart occasionally, and Beethoven constantly; this issue was central to the disagreements that Beethoven had with the classical style, that led him to dispute its hegemony and eventually to overthrow it. Characteristically, he did not come up with a single solution, but a new solution in every new work. Thus he did not develop a new form, but a new vocabulary.
Schubert felt the same constraints, and breathed Beethoven’s air of revolution, but he was too much Beethoven’s contemporary to learn this new vocabulary; instead he invented his own solutions, and in some of the late works, like the Quintet and the C-major symphony, they are as successful and original as anything by Beethoven. In the sonata in B-flat, however, he seems at first appearance to deal with the problem by making it worse. The proper tempo for the first movement is disputed (Molto Moderato does not make a ver strong point), but if it is played rather slowly, as it usually is, and the repeat is observed, it is the longest movement of any classical sonata. It is then followed by a slow movement of almost paralyzing depth and weight, followed by a light scrap of a scherzo, and a breezy, racing finish.
Or so it is often played. Paul Lewis did not play it this way, and this is the basis of my exculpatory argument. Performances of this work are often more or less over after the second movement, with the last two movements tossed off almost as an afterthought; rarely are they treated as essential elements of a whole, integrated work. There are some exceptions; in particular I think of Mitsuko Uchida and Sviatoslav Richter, and Lewis is in their company.
The sonata does not end after the second movement, but it does undergo a sudden transformation. In the first two movements a secret, silent machinery is steadily building up an enormous tension, as if winding a spring. In lesser performances this tension then just dissipates, but in Lewis’ it is suddenly released in a burst of controlled energy, first in the brief, confusing shock of the scherzo, with its hesitations and headlong staggers, and then in the desperate, driving urgency of the finale. It is both thrilling and deeply satisfying, bringing a true sense of completion to this magnificent work.
Why, then, shorten it ? When other pianists do this I generally suspect them of just wanting to get it over with, or of concern with their own ability to sustain interest in Molto Moderato for twenty minutes. However Lewis is too serious, and too deeply committed to this music, for me to think this of him. I think he must have calculated that this sacrifice was necessary to achieve and maintain the forward momentum necessary to sustain this drive through to the finish. It is certainly not the only way to achieve it (Richter and Uchida do not find it necessary), but it is difficult to question the means taken to such an extraordinary end. His intentions were honorable, and his accomplishment profound. The defense rests.
Comment by SamW — January 17, 2013 at 7:49 pm
My last comment was long, so I will make up for it by adding a short one. This is like leaving early to make up for arriving late.
In the void of the lost repeat
I though I heard a spirochete,
But then, as the scherzo slipped away,
Thought “well, maybe the bugger was gay.”
Comment by SamW — January 17, 2013 at 11:18 pm
Can’t decide whether to be breathless at that last quatrain quip, but more to the point, a musicologist friend explained to me that ‘Human attention is not a constant. It dulls over time, and pretty quickly…. For a long time, composers struggled to create a form that would make length possible without also guaranteeing ennui. The crowning achievement of this long search was sonata-allegro form. People used it because it worked. If Mozart and Beethoven struggled against anything in this regard, it was not sonata form, it was the cruel facts of nature that spawned sonata form. They merely, for perfectly good reasons and with immortal results, felt the need to carry on that struggle in somewhat different fashion. Schubert, with equally immortal results, stayed contentedly within tradition. (It seems clear he had no gripe with the basic model — he just used it to make pieces that were longer.) Now can we have exposition repeats back?’
Comment by david moran — January 18, 2013 at 2:00 am
I’m with David Moran on this one. Sonata form demands a tremendous amount of concentration on the part of the listener (in the hands of a great composer, well worth the effort), and the exposition repeat (even the development/recap repeat in earlier decades) is there to get the listener comfortable with the materials. While a performer can agonize over how to bring across the composer’s intentions without losing momentum or interest, (s)he is not given license to rewrite the piece. You have to assume the composer knew his or her own intentions, and if a repeat is indicated, then you take it, just as you don’t turn ff into ppp just because you think it sounds better that way. Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and even Brahms knew what they were up to when they indicated repeats (and when Brahms, for example, didn’t want one he didn’t write one). There are some later pieces that I wish *did* have exposition repeats, because either (i) the basic materials were so short or concentrated that balance is lost, or (ii) the complexity of the materials would benefit from a rehearing before moving on to the development.
For the record, though, I am perfectly content that Mahler did not indicate an exposition repeat in the first movement of his eighth symphony.
Comment by Vance Koven — January 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm
When I referred to Beethoven and others struggling with form, I was referring to the overall form of complete works, not to sonata-allegro form. I do not agree that Schubert stayed contentedly within tradition; he is full of harmonic transitions that had never been heard before, and even the length that is being defended was an innovation.
I agree with Vance Koven on the demands of sonata form, and why the repeats – especially in Schubert -are there for a good reason, and should be observed. I was not defending a practice, but a performance. Many who observe the repeats give much lesser performances, and few give better ones.
Comment by SamW — January 18, 2013 at 2:57 pm
Re: David Moran
While classical music listeners, like everyone else, thrive on disagreement, in this case I couldn’t agree more.
People used to make joke about iphone. It is all GOOD, only that it does not make phone calls.
The ‘review’ looks all OK. It just does not talk about music.
Lee, readers like me often feel this way. If the ‘reviewers’ keep working harder like this, eventually they will make Merriam Webster redefine ‘review’.
did not go the concert. but I’d like to add a few comments here
“Performances of this work are often more or less over after the second movement, with the last two movements tossed off almost as an afterthought”
“repeats” (I will not repeat)
It is not unusual that listeners find themselves ‘bored’ by Schubert’s repeats. The last three sonatas are elevated to much higher level and earned him the entry of the burying ground next to the God of music. But you can still hear the ‘heavenly’ long Schubert in those works.
I would not be very religious about those repeats. There are cases that it sounds better when repeats are omitted, for example, Beenthoven 5th last movement, Brahms 3rd first movement(very few people understand this). I am not crazy, I am conscious of the names of Beethoven and Brahms being mentioned. It is like committng a crime when such opinions are made public…
It is unfortunate, but that is the way Schubert is. I often say Der Tod und das Mädchen is like an unfinished quartet. The first two movements are so much self sufficient. The last two are not nearly as sublime. Of course, the maiden is not there any more.
Comment by Thorsten — January 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm
I was lucky enough to attend this concert. Center balcony, second row, behind the lady with a black scarf smelling of Breath Savers.
Lewis is a serious fellow. Never cracked a grin all night. Still, he has a nice way with these pieces, fully engaged, skillful, filled with color and interest. I would have been sorry to have missed the evening.
But I left feeling a bit let down by the Bb Sonata. There was great beauty, but no searching, no weight. The famous rumblings at the beginning of the second movement felt like ornaments, not ominous incursions. Guess I’ve been spoiled by Richter.
The instrument’s damping needs to be looked at. Some of the keys in the middle register buzzed when Lewis attempted a smooth transitions to silence.
Comment by Brian Moriarty — January 18, 2013 at 9:30 pm
Pardon my error in the above note. The famous rumblings in the Bb Sonata are in the FIRST movement (bars 9 and 19-20), not the second.
Comment by Brian Moriarty — January 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm
There is an extensive and fairly recent literature on Schubert’s diseases that I have glanced at in passing but I don’t remember enough of it to advise one way or the other. (Lee Eiseman has just drawn my attention to a “Music and Medicine” book by Neumayr which I will try to consult soon.) When I first heard the issue discussed, which was back when Tom and I were in college, the received opinion was that Schubert’s death from “nerve fever” was actually from “typhus abdominalis,” which, as far as I knew then or know now, can mean anything at all. “Typhus abdominalis” is what is given in Otto Erich Deutsch’s _ Schubert Reader_. At least one other source mentions that Schubert’s supposedly venereal disease, first noted around 1822 I think (the time of the “Unfinished” and the “Wanderer” Fantasy), might have been either syphilis or gonorrhea, and that there was no available test to discriminate these at the time, maybe not even until about 1840. When I was in Vienna in 1986 there was a TV series going about Schubert’s life, called “Mit meinen heissen Tränen” (with my hot tears), and I watched enough of it to be sure that much of it was severely romanticized. Nevertheless there was one episode where Schubert, busily at work, ran his fingers through his hair and patches of it fell out. That might be consistent with mercury poisoning (remember “erethism” or hatter’s shakes?) but I know of nothing in the Schubert literature suggesting that he had a sudden hair loss.
More to the point, it is documented that Schubert, a couple of weeks before he died, complained that the fish that was served him in a Vienna restaurant was “rotten.” One would suspect that food poisoning, like from staph, would have a fairly prompt resolution, and that salmonellosis might be more drastic and taker longer; typhoid fever, in the same bacteriological genus, might be consistent with the latter, and that’s what I always leaned to in Schubert’s case, though having no precise or professional knowledge that would support it. (Did anyone, back then, know of the difference between typhus and typhoid fever? The names suggest there’s a kinship, but presumably that would only be in the character of the symptoms, not in the bacteriology.) One wonders whether Schubert (like Tchaikovsky in his fatal cholera) might have lived if he had had carefully supportive treatment plus electrolyte replacement, e.g. with plenty of Gatorade.
I certainly don’t think that these last sonatas of Schubert reveal any sense of impending doom. I think they reveal an ever-increasing, ever-more-inquiring composer’s mind, and one wonders what kind of amazing music he might have written if he’d lived even just a few months longer. Sooner or later he might have written music somewhat like Chopin’s Aflat Ballade or the last two movts. of Mahler’s Fourth, only very different and maybe more wonderful.
Comment by Mark DeVoto — January 19, 2013 at 10:26 am
From “Music and Medicine” by Anton Neumayr referring to Schubert’s treatments for syphilis:
A new attack of the disease in the fall of 1823 must have been serious because Schubert had to be admitted to the Vienna General Hospital for treatment until about the middle of November. While he was in the hospital, he had to have his hair cut off, as we learn from Schwind’s letter of 24 December 1823, which is why for some time after his discharge he wore a wig. The reason for cutting off his hair must have been the emergence of a syphilitic skin rash, which tends to show up on the face and neck. Alternatively, he may also have had general hair loss in which the hair may have fallen out in patches, as often happens with syphilis.
By the end of 1823, Schubert’s condition had improved substantially. We read in Schwind’s letter of 22 February 1824 that Schubert had quit wearing the wig and his head was beginning to show “signs of sweet little curls.”
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 19, 2013 at 11:11 am
Is there really any contradiction between deepening inquiry and a sense of impending doom ? The sight of the scaffold is said to concentrate the mind wonderfully. I think it would be remarkable to live for six years with a debilitating, degenerative, shameful, and nearly always fatal disease and not have one’s outlook directed by it.
Comment by SamW — January 19, 2013 at 11:11 am
As pleased as I am by the extensive commentary accompanying this review as well as the review itself, I think a gentle admonition is in order. While it may be that Mr. Lewis’s performance will earn him “tenure” with the Celebrity Series and the other institutions mentioned by the reviewer, it is worth noting that Mr. Lewis did indeed earn his “first public Boston recital,” in fact, his first Boston recital of any kind, courtesy of Celebrity Series of Boston: the renter of the venue, the issuer of tickets, indeed the presenter of this performance.
Comment by JWright — January 22, 2013 at 4:54 pm
JWright’s comment is mysterious to BMInt’s publisher. What is he complaining about? BMInt published an extensive promotional interview with the artist and gave him a rave review.
Wright is wrong when he asserts that Lewis “gave his first recital of any kind” in Boston. Lewis made his (private)local debut at The Harvard Musical Association in February 2011 to a very enthusiastic audience which included Lloyd Schwartz and Jeremy Eichler.
Comment by Lee Eiseman — January 22, 2013 at 5:10 pm
I stand corrected.
Comment by JWright — January 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm
Since much to my surprise I started off what has evolved into instructive, if at times testosterone-laden discussion (why have no women chimed in?), I thought I’d close with an invitation to David Moran.
David: As a glutton for punishment, I’m heading out in 10 degrees this evening to hear and review the debut recital in the Boston area (for real, I believe) of Vilde Frang, a young Norwegian violinist who presumably will not mind the weather. I will have an extra ticket, since my daughter has family matters that have intervened…and I’d love to have you join me. Would be fun to compare notes. It’s at Longy at 8 pm. I’m aging, bearded, and will have on a blue jacket and brown cap.
Meanwhile, we’ve had excellent critique of the reviewer’s craft, medical speculation, musings about sexual orientation, discussion of the sonata form and the matter of repeats, and a superb example of timely rhyme (Should we debate whether it’s poetry or doggerel?). Onward and upward!
Comment by tom delbanco — January 23, 2013 at 10:05 am
Mr Delbanco, thanks so much, most gracious of you, again, and a mature response to shots, I must say. However, I am on a deadline, alas (freelance loudspeaker review cum book review). Frang may be chilly with her neckline:
I, and I imagine many of the rest of us here, shall look forward to your writeup. We certainly seem to be in a golden era of young and not so young violinists (and much else, classically speaking).
Your consideration much appreciated.
Comment by David Moran — January 23, 2013 at 2:49 pm
Yes, the Bb Sonata. Anyone who was in Symphony Hall for the late, great Annie Fischer’s performance of this masterpiece some fifteen years ago will surely agree with me, it will never be heard better. While her studio recording on an old mono Hungaroton nearly competes (alongside Haskil, Kraus, Vosgerchian, Hautzig and Demus), it is to a live 1956 recording by Vladimir Sofronitzky that I always turn for Schubertian satisfaction — although his 1960 traversal ain’t too shoddy either. I heard Lewis’s a-minor over the radio and thought it too pretty, a frequent problem with performances of these sonatas.
Comment by Clark Johnsen — January 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm
Meant to say… I quite enjoy his Beethoven set, some of the performances rank among the best ever, but there’s a handful of duds too. The problem? Too pretty.
Comment by Clark Johnsen — January 24, 2013 at 6:34 pm
Finally someone I can agree with. Thanks, Clark Johnsen, We were at Annie Fischer;s concert, along with the entire Hungarian-American population of Boston,it seemed. We were awed. Must have been more than 15 yrs ago. Also remember Artur Rubinstein playing D960, in SH, way long ago, about the time of his recording (1960s ?) Of course, it was the last work on Alfred Brendel’s farewell concert a few years ago.
Also continue to admire Paul Lewis, a pianist of rare talents. Own and love his Beethoven, not so much his Schubert. ( an even tougher nut to crack? but will keep listening.}
Comment by morty schnee — January 31, 2013 at 10:18 am
After the Annie Fischer concert I went backstage for an autograph on my Hungaroton record of the Bb. The line was long so I had opportunity to observe her interactions, which were mostly with a friend standing beside her. She also seemed to have applied a new layer of lipstick and perhaps eyeliner, but what I remember best is that the pair of them were smoking up a storm!
Comment by Clark Johnsen — February 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm
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