Sunday, 31 January 2021

Good for Lungs and Soul

 It's Schubert's birthday today (born 1797).
  What to say? Happily he is now recognised for what he was, one of the half dozen or so greatest composers who ever lived. It wasn't always so, and it took until well into the 20th century before Schubert got his long belated due. Even in my boyhood, he was still popularly regarded as a charming songwriter and not very much else. 
  Over the years on this blog I have posted quite a few examples of Schubert's genius – mostly songs – but today I'm going to go for something on a grander scale, and for a particular reason. I remember some years ago hearing Dorothy Rowe, an unusually sane psychologist, on Desert Island Discs being asked, at the end of the programme, which of her eight choices she would rescue if she could only save one. Her answer was Schubert's Symphony No 9, the 'Great C Major', because it was the only piece of music she knew that always lifted her spirits and made her feel better, however she felt when she started and in whatever circumstances she was listening. I feel exactly the same way about it, and it would be my choice of the one disc to save should the call from Desert Island Discs ever come (and they're leaving it a bit late...). 
  If it weren't for the efforts of Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, the Great C Major might have lain forgotten for many years. Schumann was shown the manuscript on a visit to Vienna in 1838, immediately recognised it as something very special, and arranged for his friend Mendelssohn to premiere it in Leipzig the following year (eight years after Schubert's death), albeit in shortened form. It is a symphony of, in Schumann's phrase, 'heavenly length', the kind of length that only Beethoven, it was assumed, could handle. How wrong they were. 
  Here, in the interests of lifting the spirits in these dreary locked-down times, is the final movement of Schubert's symphonic masterpiece, an endlessly inventive dance of unquenchable vitality and melodic beauty. Listen out for the nod to Beethoven's Ode to Joy around halfway through – and feel free to dance and fling your arms about; it's good for your lungs, as well as your soul. 


  1. Ivan Hewett in the Telegraph on Monday bemoaned the playing of 'the Great' by the LSO recently. He wished there'd been more Berg & characterised the Schubert work thus: "All that parade-ground pomposity, all those repetitions, and that endless tiddely-pom, tiddely-pom rhythm in the strings in the finale – it’s the musical equivalent of the brainfever bird’s maddening call." I assume they actually PAY him for writing about his cloth-eared prejudices.