Category: Franz Schubert

  • Composing Irony

    The round tune “Frère Jacques” (Brother John) is known across cultures and languages in Europe. In German, it’s called “Bruder Martin” or “Bruder Jakob.” In the third movement of his Symphony no. 1 in D minor, Gustav Mahler presents us with a sardonic, funeral-march like version of the song in minor. He was inspired by […]

  • Classically Black, part II: The Songs of Black Volk Playlist

    W.E.B. Du Bois (above), who spent several years studying in Germany in the 1890s, greatly admired German classical music, and considered it a repertoire full of freedom and possibility for black performers. He especially loved the operas of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), and in 1936 he made a pilgrimage to Bayreuth, the opera house in Bavaria […]

  • Schubertiades in a Police State

    Schubert’s room, as drawn by his friend Moritz von Schwind, 1821. Franz Schubert at age 16. Franz von Schober. The Austrian poet Franz von Schober (1796-1882) was evidently the driving force behind the Schubertiades, the semi-private salon gatherings at which Franz Schubert premiered many of his Lieder. Schober was in fact such a close friend of […]

  • Little Wild Rose in the Heather

    (The manuscript of “Heidenröslein.” Schubert’s marking is “lieblich,” i.e. charming or lovely.) Read through the score here: IMSLP09270-SchubertD257_Heidenroslein The song starts almost without starting: the voice and piano begin together, without any introduction. Although the song is a setting of a poem by the great German poet, playwright, novelist, and scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, […]

  • Death and the Maiden

    The theme of Death and the Maiden comes from the Middle Ages, where the visual motif of the danse macabre or Totentanz (the dance of death) was a popular decoration in painting and architecture. The danse macabre usually shows the allegorical figure of Death leading an unsuspecting group of the living in a round dance which ends in the grave […]

  • Mountain Music

    The sound of the French horn provides one of the most emblematically Romantic timbres in nineteenth-century music. Why is that? The French horn derives its origin from the hunting horn (in German, waldhorn or forest horn) — a brass instrument played while hunting on horseback to call back the hounds from the hunt. Some horns, […]

  • Piping Down the Valleys Wild: Some Literary and Historical Sources

    The title page of Songs of Innocence (1793) by William Blake (1757-1827). You can view the entire 1793 edition and read commentary at the Tate Museum’s website. An 1802 poem along similar lines by William Wordsworth (1770-1850): My heart leaps up when I behold   A rainbow in the sky: So was it when my life […]

  • He Who Knows Longing

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in a traveling robe on a trip to Italy. In 1795, Goethe published his novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship), a Bildungsroman (novel concerned with the growth of the individual human spirit) about a young merchant who, dissatisfied with his life in business, goes off to join a group of traveling street […]

  • The Blue Flower

    (Clara Wieck Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Robert Schumann.) On October 1, 1853, the twenty-year-old Johannes Brahms, who was on tour accompanying violinist Eduard Remenyi throughout the German-speaking lands, knocked on the door of his idol, Robert Schumann in Düsseldorf. He played his Piano Sonata no. 1 in C Major for Schumann and his wife, the […]

  • The Waiting is the Hardest Part

    The legend of Dr. Faust — a scholar dissatisfied with his life, who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for renewed youth, strength, and vigor — is an ancient one. The first literary adaptations of the Faust legend began to appear in the sixteenth century, and every age since has reinterpreted the story […]