Tuesday, January 02, 2007


When I ask Classical Music lovers to name a work that moves them emotionally, spiritually and intellectually I frequently get the following responses:

Beethoven 9th Symphony

Mozart Requiem

Bach Magnificat

Bach’s St Matthew Passion

Beethoven Missa Solemnis

Mahler 9th Symphony

Sometimes an opera like “La Boheme” or “Madame Butterfly” or a specific aria is mentioned. All are incredible masterpieces and worthy of the honor. All are monumental in scale and in forces, with large orchestras, choral parts, and a religious program weaving a common thread.

However, to my ears and mind, a work maybe not smaller in length but smaller in forces never fails to have the same effect. A work for a solo instrument that languished in obscurity for a considerable time yet is as inspiring as any of the works usually mentioned.

Schubert Sonata for Piano in Bb Major D 960.

Listen to it. Hear the pathos, the maturity and confidence of the composer in what was tragically the last year of his short life, the series of prayers for peace and healing with meditations both sacred and profane. There is an almost relentless force-of-nature-like forward motion in the opening “Molto Moderato” movement, even as it begins with a profound, yet simple prayer. The more turbulent center section takes you on a life journey, with all the highs and lows life offers. The opening prayer's return at the end is a meditation on serenity and enlightenment.

The following “Andante sostenuto” movement is far removed from flashy virtuosity. Some hear a soft, peaceful lullaby or a simple accompaniment and a hymn-like melody. I hear a profound meditation on the acceptance of fate. I keep coming back to enlightenment, as if Schubert had a revelation of his life's purpose and that his work was done. In the slightly faster center section of the movement, I hear the restrained joy of someone expressing “yes, I have found it, this is perfection, and I have found my soul.” Yet moments of fear and insecurity creep in now and then. Simply the most incredible and emotionally complex 10 minutes in music.

In the short (around 4 minutes) “Allegro Vivace Con Delicatezza”, I hear a mercurial and witty celebration. Far from flashy, the intermezzo begins the ascent from the mood of deep meditation to the more lighthearted exploration of joy and contentment. The final “Allegro ma non troppo” has a slightly ironic joy and wit ultimately dispelling the gloom of the first two movements.

There are many wonderful performances of this marvel of music. Brendel, Leif Ove Andsnes, and my piano hero Leon Fleisher on his new Vanguard CD “Two Hands”.

Any of these will provide you with an experience that will enrich you and one you will not forget.

No comments: