Saturday, January 7, 2023

Forward to Writing …

Back to writing!

Back? Why back?

Perhaps, forward to writing?

I prefer that. 

Why did it take so long?

Procrastination, she would say.

Maybe it is actually the need for preparation. Readiness I mean, in the state of mind. Emotional mind.

Yes, yes, but this took a long time. 

I don’t think it was not having what to write about.   It propels me to think what took so long.  Is it insecurity, or being too judgmental? Maybe I shut myself from writing? 

I like writing. I like searching for words, for sounds, rhythms, even colours. 

Words are special. They communicate. They express. But words can also be deceiving. Words can also be dishonest.

Can we express though without words? 

Just by a look. Perhaps by a touch?

I think a look and a touch are worth so many words! So many!  I think about looking at a person, or touching.

I, indeed express by a touch. A touch of my fingers on the keys.   Black keys, white keys. It doesn’t matter.

The touch, however, does matter. It matters a great deal.  The movement to prepare the touch, to sustain it, and to release it. That’s the secret!  And with the way I touch I express a feeling, sometimes a state of mind.  Expressing even if I am completely blind.

I do not need to see, only feel.

Feel the keys, that I am about to fill with content, and peel its mysteries, and conceal its hurdles. Feeling is also revealing. 

And what happens when I am done feeling? Is there such a thing? Do we feel all the time?   What happens when the piece we perform ends. Do the feelings end also?  

I am not sure one is done feeling. However, one may shut himself from feeling. And then it’s very difficult to write.  That might last just a few days. It might also last a full year!  Wait, but what about me?  Did I stop feeling for some time. Did I? 

Wow, I became a fossil. Oh shit.  

Was it for protection? 

Interesting. So to protect myself I shut myself.  Well, but I died. Sort of.

I am in a new place. Looking and seeing forward. Thinking and feeling forward. Let’s see.  Capturing the moment and embracing the unpredictable, and above all feeling. Feeling, and writing about it. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reflections on Recordings

I am on the way back home from NYC following three days of intense recording sessions of two Mozart concerti arranged for piano and string quintet. This recording, for the Naxos record label, was with the critically acclaimed Fine Arts Quartet and bass player Alexander Bickard.  Many thoughts go through my head at the moment. To put it mildly, could I have played better?  This music is “better than could be played” as the legendary pianist Artur Schnabel so vividly asserted. Should this liberate me then from such thoughts? Of course I could have played better. It can always be better. But, knowing that a recording is a snapshot of a particular moment in time, of a particular moment in an artist’s infinite musical journey, could I have played this music better today?  Recording, as I slowly and reluctantly came to understand, is a very powerful and most important learning tool. The process of preparing for it as well as the actual process of doing it is an experience that adds an invaluable level of understanding and internalizing of a piece!  

A somewhat strange observation - In order to record a piece, one has to perform it first. However, it is usually after recording a piece that I feel much more ready to perform it. So, should I perform first in order to record or should I record first in order to perform??

I would not record a piece before I get a chance to perform it multiple times on the stage. Experiencing a piece on the concert stage is one of the most important lessons in the pursuit of unveiling one of the most important aspects in the art of music - that which we call time. We can only experience time when we perform in actual time!   Consequently, recording a piece before performing it is out of the question. And yet… recording a piece for a CD adds a very important layer of insight and intimacy to the process of learning. Are these insights unattainable during performances? Is it necessary to record? Why? What are those insights?

As I mentioned, experiencing the music in real time at a concert is one of the most important lessons, if not the most important lesson, when getting to know a piece. Performing a piece on stage for the first time is, if I may say, a necessary evil. Several times in my life I postponed a first performance of a piece due to insecurity and strong feelings that I needed more time. Chopin’s 24 Preludes is a prime example of such a piece that I kept postponing going on stage with. Looking back, that was a mistake. A first performance will always be a first performance, even if postponed by several weeks, months or even years! A first performance is the stage of transitioning the piece from infancy to beginning of maturity. It is literary crossing a major threshold.  Once I performed the Preludes for the first time, it completely transformed. That first performance left much to be desired, but that which was left to be desired was much more within reach once I performed it, and not before. Similar resistance to first performances I get with late Beethoven or Schubert as well as other monumental works. Going forward, we perform the piece again, and then it is very important to leave the piece and learn other things. A few years go by and we take it again, having gained new perspective. We perform it again… and leave it again. The great pianist Radu Lupu told me once that he didn’t feel he knew a piece until he went back to it six times!  

Now we come to the actual recording. Three 6-8 hour days of playing through the music multiple times, listening to the outcome, then playing again with particular concentration to the observations made by the recording engineer, my colleagues as well as my inner-self. Listening again - what’s gained, and what’s lost? Recording small sections, trying a different balance, greater dynamic contrasts, perhaps different tempo - slower? faster?  The intense back and forth between artists, recording engineer and a microphone is exhausting. One feels exposed to the core. The piece is also being exposed to its DNA before you. These are very intense hours. The recording finally comes to an end. I still ask the recording engineer to listen some more after everyone has left. Just to make sure… The level of insight gained - nuances, subtleties, possibilities - is greater than has been reached so far.  As a result, now is the time to perform these pieces! Now it is ready to be heard. So what were all these previous performances. Were they good at all? 

A number of interesting surprises during the sessions made me reevaluate my sense of judgement when performing: 

One of the most common yet always confusing misjudgments in a performance in general, let alone a recording, is that of tempo - speed. Time and again what sounded full of vitality and life when playing at the concert, ends up sounding rushed and unnecessarily hectic when listening to the recording of the concert. The same holds for a recording - the last movement of one of the concerti felt great even if somewhat too comfortable during the playing for the microphone. It ended up sounding rushed and without any sense of elegance or style when listening behind that microphone! Also in a slow movement what seemed very slow during the recording session, sounded not slow at all when listening to it.  

Another revelation revolved around the musical ideas - In the desire to bring out a certain character of a particular tune one tends to take time here and there with the goal of highlighting this or that. Music is “the art of time distortion”.  Going back again to listen, this “time distortion” was blown out of proportions when sitting behind listening to what I tried to convey. Can it really be that I exaggerated so much? This didn’t sound like a character but rather a caricature of a character!

An opposite outcome occurred in the realm of dynamic range. What sounded pretty varied and wide in terms of dynamic range playing to the microphone, sounded narrow and one dimensional listening to what came out. Scary! Can it be that the recording actually irons out dynamic contrasts? Or is it me? I mean us!!  How different is it playing to an audience than to the mic?  Glenn Gould of course will argue that it is much easier and more natural to play to a microphone. He used to say “I prefer to convince one mic rather than a 1000 souls.” Should I alter my playing then when playing to a mic or playing to an audience?  Should it be any different, and why?

One should always be sensitive to the space that one plays in and be flexible enough to adjust. We play in different halls and on different pianos all the time. Each hall has a different acoustic. In each hall the sound bounces differently. It travels differently. Needless to say different pianos will have a profound impact on the performance. We should be able to understand and feel our surroundings and the instrument in order to serve best the music that we perform. Having said all that, does a recording distort what we play or is it truly an aural image of what we do?  I cannot answer that definitively. However, I can say without a doubt that to the art of performance we need to add the art of recording. It is different - the preparation as well as the process. The end result will bring us another step closer on the never-ending climb up the mountain to understanding the next piece we have been struggling with, and trying to ultimately give our best… snapshot. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

"From Bach to Offenbach!"

Prior to performing Saint Saens with the Virginia Symphony I addressed the audience with the following introduction:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, 

“From Bach to Offenbach!”, exclaimed a Polish pianist/composer following the premiere of Saint Saens 2nd Piano concerto. Well, I guess the opening page of the concerto with its organ-like polyphonic sonority can bring Bach to mind, and the last movement with its galloping tarantella might sound like an interlude from an Offenbach Operetta.  But what’s in between?  Are we going to hear all kinds of references?

Saint Saens was an interesting figure. He made his debut at age 11 playing a Mozart concerto as well as a movement from a Beethoven concerto. As an encore he turned to the audience and asked them to name any of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas which he then played by heart.  Please... let this NOT give you any ideas for tonight.


Saint Saens gained a reputation as a Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Scientist, Astronomer, Archeologist, Graphic designer and a Cartoonist. His heart, though, was set on Music. He wrote 12 operas, 5 piano concerti, violin concerti, symphonies and a whole lot of miscellaneous works. 

The second half of the 19th century was highlighted by two main opposite poles. On the one side there was Johannes Brahms, the last of the great classicists. The man who carried the torch directly from Beethoven as Schumann wrote back in his famous article - "New Paths" 1853. On the other side were Liszt and Wagner, which were referred to as the “music of the future”. It is interesting to see where Saint Saens was influenced or paid homage to the classical era, and where he is turning his aspirations to “the future”…  This concerto has three movements, it has an opening theme, a contrasting second theme. These themes will come back at the end and create a certain symmetry, and we also have a cadenza at the end of the first movement. These are all “classical ingredients”. However, the order of the movements is somewhat reversed. We start with a slow movement, then go to a fast movement followed by a faster one.  Also, the themes are not being developed or treated as if it is a sonata style. They rather unfold one after another as if telling a story in the nature of Liszt tone-poem. 


I also like to ask myself what makes this music French. Can it be the search for different orchestral coloring or sonorities, something that French composers where fascinated by?  Or perhaps it is the character of the themes - a combination of elegance, charm, wit and above all nonchalance. This is also very passionate music, but is it passion that one wears on his sleeve like Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninov, or a deeper more profound passion like Schumann or Brahms?  Or maybe it is altogether a bit lighter kind of passion, or shall we say it is more French?

This is music of great ingenuity, creativity and imagination. After all it was written by the same composer who wrote a decade later “The Carnival of the Animals”. Are we going to get a preliminary appearance of some of the animals from the Carnival? Let me give you a hint, one of the “animals” featured in the Carnival is talking to you right now… Movement no. 11 in the Carnival is called “Pianists!” 


So, whether it is Bach, or Offenbach, Liszt or Brahms, French music or Carnival of the animals, ladies and gentlemen I am just the messenger. The rest is up to you. 
Thank you all for coming and I hope you will enjoy the performance. 

Opening pages of the Concerto

Monday, November 21, 2016

Poking Poulenc

Preceding the performance of Poulenc’s concerto for two pianos in Savannah GA, I addressed the audience with the following short introduction:

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts, perhaps insights into this unique work which you are about to hear - the Concerto in d minor for two pianos by Francis Poulenc.

At the end of the 19th century the musical scene in Europe was dominated by the music of Wagner and Strauss. This rich, lush, self-indulgent, self-oriented music completely overwhelmed and overshadowed anything in its way. Composers such as Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy had to look elsewhere for their sources of inspiration. They tried to break away and go as far as possible from this intoxicating, somewhat "dangerous" music. Stravinsky started to incorporate African rhythms into his compositions. Ravel looked to Persia and being fascinated by the new cultural possibilities wrote Scheherazade. Debussy went even further, off the coast of Indonesia to the island of Java and brought back the sounds of Gamelan music - an orchestra of bells. The search for new sounds - exoticism - was central especially to the French composers.

Francis Poulenc was born into this atmosphere in 1899. Absorbing these new waves and musical thoughts, he also raised an important question - whether music / art has to always represent something serious, above, high, elitist. Can music, at times, be just plain silly. This concerto is in d minor. The two most famous d minor concerti are those by Mozart and Brahms. Both are profound masterpieces with monumental as well as tragic substance. The piece which we are about to hear, although in the same key, is a complete antithesis to its predecessors. It might be looked at as a counter-reaction to everything that d minor represents. 

In his pursuit of sounds and silliness Poulenc also asked the orchestra to get out of its comfort zone and be something else. Right at the opening pages of this magnificent work, the strings are being asked to sound like drums. In the middle section of the first movement, the wood winds and brass will produce hallowing, wining sounds resembling some creepy creatures. At the end of the first movement, one of my favorite places in the concerto, the two pianos need to create a gamelan orchestra of high-pitch bells while the principal cellist will be transformed into a glass-harmonica. Good luck with that…
This is music that combines buffoonery with brilliance; elements of fear with elements of flirt. It will make you love as well as laugh. It is sophisticated and surprising. It is very moving music, as well as movie music. Ladies and gentlemen, you are right! Combining all these things together might end up sounding more like one big cacophony than a piece of music. Well, we thank you for coming. We wish you good luck, and hope that you will enjoy this evening’s performance."

Poulenc plays Poulenc

Friday, May 20, 2016

Orchestral Music @ the Piano

Music is an art form that “happens” in the dimension of time. It is horizontal - starting at point A and ending after some time at point B, or perhaps Z. It has high points and low points, climaxes and moments of relaxation, drama, chaos, order, relief, triumph and so much more. When we make music we strive to tell a story and create these infinite array of emotions while keeping throughout a sense of movement, a sense of horizontality.

Piano is a strange instrument. We press keys down in a vertical movement in order to create something that is purely horizontal. We do not blow air into an instrument as with a wind instrument, or have the advantage of using a bow to create movement as with a string instrument. The piano has 88 evenly laid out keys which hit strings with hammers in order to create something which is anything but even or percussive.  Composers dealt with this “ethical” enigma when they wrote for the keyboard. One of the inspirations and aspirations for composers in reconciling this problem is to transform the piano into something else… an orchestra. The piano (after all) does have some advantages - the ability to deliver many notes at the same time, the ability to use different registers all at once, the enormous span, the different colors and so on.  Composers put this idea at the forefront, and in pursuing their goal turned the piano into an orchestra in astonishingly different ways.

J. S. Bach published his Italian Concerto in 1735 as part of what is known as “Clavier├╝bung II” or “Keyboard practice book 2”. At age 50 Bach decided to publish a book consisting of only two works - The Overture in French Style and the Italian Concerto. Both pieces are studies in orchestral writing. While the Overture examines the dance genre, the Italian Concerto looks at the brilliant writing of the concerto style. A presenter once asked me upon seeing that I will be performing this piece, “who are you playing it with? which orchestra?” Not realizing this extraordinary work is played with one instrument. The essence of the concerto genre is the confrontation between the soloist and the orchestra. This creates a lot of the drama. This drama may be severely damaged if a conversation between two becomes a monologue of one! Bach created here the effect of an orchestra against a soloist by experimenting with textures, registers as well styles of writing. The first movement suggests the style of a violin concerto with virtuosic writing for the solo right hand. The second movement is a highly ornamented aria accompanied by a continuo bass. Though sounding quasi improvised, it is very meticulously written out. The third movement is a concerto grosso, or concerto for orchestra having all the voices in high speed participating as soloists as well as orchestra. 

Almost 90 years separate Bach’s work, with one of Franz Schubert’s most monumental “orchestral” works - the Fantasy for solo piano in C major known was “The Wanderer”. Its dramatic power, bold formal structure, emotional range and conciseness, makes it one of the most revolutionary pieces in the Romantic era. The piece was shocking in the way it treated the piano. It influenced generations of composers such as Liszt (who orchestrated the piece) Mendelssohn, Chopin and others. A student played the piece for me once. His playing was extremely aggressive and percussive. When I suggested the idea of looking for an orchestral sound, he instantly agreed exclaiming “here we have the bells. and here are the drums, the gong, cymbals and so on.” I then suggested that this should not be a Stravinsky orchestra, but rather a similar orchestra to the one that performed a Schubert Symphony. The “Wanderer fantasy” is a grand symphonic work - The “modernity” of its use of the piano is truly revolutionary - Its exhaustive use of the sonorities of the instrument, its insistent use of broken octaves - suggesting string tremolo, the cascading full throttle octaves - perhaps a brass section, the broad rich texture - full tutti, the wide range of dynamics, the entire scope of the piece, all suggest the search for a multitude of forces that exist only within the orchestra. The piece was written in C major, the same key that Schubert later wrote his final symphony nicknamed “The Great”. 

Moving forward to the world of Franz Liszt who wrote over 60 transcriptions, paraphrases and arrangements of operas from Mozart to Bellini, Verdi to Wagner. He made these for several reasons: Being a virtuoso pianist, it was a way to show-off his abilities and imagination also as a composer / improvisor. Secondly, it was an opportunity to bring this music to a wider audience at a time when not everyone was able to connect to YouTube… and Lastly and the most important reason in my opinion - these arrangements celebrated the instrument that had become so popular, so central during the first decades of the 19th century. To celebrate the piano as well as to challenge it - above all the sonorities which included dynamic range, articulation possibilities, note repetition and pedals. It is commonly thought that Chopin wrote “everything that was possible for the piano”. Well, in that case Liszt wrote everything that was NOT possible for the piano. This is not to say one is better than the other. It simply suggests that the things Liszt asked for from the piano were beyond what the instrument was “supposed” to do. LIszt’s arrangement of Wagner’s last scene from Tristan and Isolde is a wonderful example. Bringing to life Wagner’s epic orchestra - 100 string players, six harps, 12 horns and more - all captured within one single instrument is “mission impossible” or is it not?   It is fascinating the way Liszt creates the effects of a timpani drum-roll, string tremolo, harp arpeggios, and of course winds solos. The arrangement is full of imagination. At a certain point one forgets about the orchestra altogether and immerses himself in the toxic beauty of sound and color that comes out of the piano. 

At the hight of Romanticism, from 1890 to the beginning of the 20th century, the music of Wagner and Strauss was so overpowering, so dominating that the composers that followed - Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky - had to look anywhere but Germany to find their sources of inspiration. That went a long way in the areas of sound, texture, sonority and rhythm. There was a search for new colors - exoticism was central especially in the works of Claude Debussy. One of Debussy’s most enchanting piano works “Estampes” gets its inspiration from Gamelan music coming from the island of Java of the coast of Indonesia. This is an orchestra made up of almost entirely percussion instruments - clappers, rattles, a variety of gongs and bells producing timbres which were previously unknown to classical music. Debussy revolutionized our perception of the scale of dynamics, silences and articulation markings as means of expression. In this exploration he achieved a whole new range of orchestral colors within the piano. We might compare his revolution in that aspect to what Liszt had achieved a few decades before with his virtuosic demands on the piano . A short piano work called “D’un cahier d’esquisses is particularly interesting as it explores silences and sound in just as much intensity and consistency as it explores the moments of ecstasy and climaxes. One gets a sense of hallucination as if being catered for under a magical spell.

After WWII, the entire world was in a state of complete shock and lost hope. In the music world that manifested itself in the idea that we have to “start anew”. Composers began asking themselves whether a piece needed to have structure, melody, rhythm and so on. Furthermore, can structure be something different, new? The same question applies to melody and rhythm. What is a melody?  What is rhythm? Along these lines, the concept of whether instruments can produce different sounds was tested. Does an orchestra needs to sound like an orchestra?  Georgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata which was written between 1951 and 1953 examines the very foundation of such questions. Six movements from this collection were transcribed for a Wind quintet. Humor, wit, sarcasm, pain, songfulness, folklore and paying homage, are all played-with and ultimately given new meanings in what lay the foundation to post-modernism. One of the most important phenomenas that occur when we listen to music in general is “Expectations”. We expect a theme, we expect to feel, we expect to resolve tensions, we expect certain sounds. The idea of “expectations” is being put to the test and shaken to the core in this fascinating piece by Ligeti. 

Throughout the centuries the Keyboard remained central in the creative lives of composers. Some wrote their new symphony first at the keyboard and then orchestrated it. Others wrote their new symphony FOR the keyboard, imagining the range of sound and color that an orchestra can produce within that enigmatic instrument. Some of the most fascinating pieces ever written were for the piano but with the full resources of an orchestra behind as the driving force. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

“Go to sleep Mom, I will call you later”

In memory of Vera Stern 

I cannot remember how many times I heard Michael say these words to his mother, moments before we walked together onto the stage to perform another piano concerto. Whether it was in Memphis, or Kansas City, Newark or Colorado Springs, he was always on the phone with his Mom when the stage manager knocked on the dressing room door asking him to come. “Go to sleep Mom, I will call you later”. When I heard Michael say this for the last time at Ms. Stern’s memorial service last month I broke into tears, as I do now. Can I hear it just one more time? Please?

What can I say about a person who could show me reason in places that others saw chaos, and who gave me the feeling of a warm home at a place that others considered a jungle.  Ms. Stern, as I often addressed her, made New York City feel like the warmest place whenever I came to perform. She also made me focus, in the sometimes confusing life of music on what is important.

The first time I met Ms. Stern was in 1991, when I played with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra after winning a competition. At the reception following the concert she stood on top of a sofa with bare feet addressing the people, the conductor and myself standing on either side. A few months ago I came across pictures from that event and enthusiastically told Ms. Stern about them. She remembered where it was, the sofa she stood on top of, what she said, and the purple dress she wore!

It took eight more years till we met again, and started what was to become an unforgettable friendship. I came to New York to play a recital and was offered to practice at her beautiful apartment overlooking Central Park. My manager told me some time after the concert that Ms. Stern noted that I could come again to practice on her piano because “I did not break any string”. Needless to say that was the end of me practicing any Prokofiev or something above "mezzo-forte" on that piano…

Slowly and with much caution she opened herself to me in ways that made me shiver each time all over again. 

Ms. Stern enjoyed getting to know people. She loved helping people. To help was a life’s mission, an ultimate pursuit worth any sacrifice. Helping, also meant being there. To miss a concert of someone she cared for was inconceivable - if there were 50 stairs to climb she would fly; if there was 3 feet of snow on the ground she would slide with elegance. Not showing up was not an option. One of my vivid memories was playing at the People Symphony Concerts when it was below zero degrees outside following a snow storm, which resulted in dangerous icy conditions. She was not only there, but also brought along others!  I think her presence at the concerts made people play better. It made the audience experience more than usual. She knew that, and therefore it was not an option that she will miss a concert.

But it was not just the concerts. Ms. Stern cared for everything, and wanted to help in all sorts of ways. I remember once she cut a newspaper article for me and kept it for months till we met. It was about the importance of spending time with family. I guess she did not feel I understood that enough. Sharing was her way of caring. I did change after reading the article, and it gave her great pleasure. Over the years I received many more articles...

What always brought tears to her eyes was her family - reading in the newspaper about Michael or David, seeing an old video of Mr. Stern, getting a picture from a grandson or granddaughter - this would immediately bring tears in a most humble and inspiring way. She was so preoccupied with giving to others, her family gave it back to her. It was extraordinary to witness some of that.

And so, I learned over the years that orange was her favorite color, and each time I visited I would bring orange roses, tulips or lilies. That color belongs to her. Even though she had a great sense of authority and will-power, greater than I have ever seen, it was always special to see her child-like reaction when seeing a good chocolate, or getting some blueberries. 

A couple of years ago when she was at the hospital for two weeks I came to visit and saw a piano in the dining hall. Within minutes we gathered around the piano and I played for her a private concert. Ms. Stern was a magnet, and so within seconds people came for this private little soiree. I remember playing a Schubert Impromptu among other things. Two days after she past away I had a recital in New York City and dedicated the encore to her memory - it was a Schubert Impromptu. 

The day before she died I came to practice at her apartment. It had been some time since I have been to New York. She was not conscience, but I was assured that she knew I was coming and had the piano especially tuned the week before. I want to believe that she waited for me to come just one more day to practice. 

Ms. Stern, I miss you!
with lots of love 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Beethoven surprises us / Schubert surprises himself!

Prior to performing Schubert’s towering sonata in c minor D. 958 I addressed the audience with the following remarks -

I recently spoke with a close friend sharing with him the program for my upcoming solo recitals. When he heard that I will be playing a late Schubert sonata he asked whether my intention is to put people to sleep! He then recommended that I ask the audience to turn on their cell-phones, and feel free to send text messages or check e-mails between movements.  Well, He was not completely wrong.  During the second half of the 19 century concerts were a much lighter affair.  A program would normally consist of a movement of a piece, followed by two arias, then perhaps an improvisation on a popular tune and so on.  To play a full Schubert sonata was inconceivable, not to mention that these works were pretty much neglected back then.

We seem to be living in an era in which in order to be taken seriously one has to program four Beethoven sonatas. Programming Liszt transcriptions, or Brahms Hungarian Dances means you won’t be considered as a serious artist. Playing only a movement from a sonata means you will be vetoed altogether. And yet the programs of Horowitz or Rubinstein from the first half of the 20 century show much greater variety and imagination.

The Schubert sonatas remained unappreciated until well into the 20th century. When the great pianist Artur Schnabel was recording the B flat sonata, in the early 1930’s, Sergei Rachmaninov came to visit Abbey Road Studios in London where Schnabel was recording. Apparently each time the Russian virtuoso came to the studios there was a ritual that everyone would line-up to greet the great maestro. Schnabel decided to play along and stood in line. When Rachmaninov saw Schnabel he asked him for the reason he was at the studios that day. After Schnabel told him that he was recording the last Schubert sonata, Rachmaninov asked whether he could listen. Upon hearing this monumental masterpiece Rachmaninov turned to Schnabel saying “…but this is great music!” Schnabel replied “I know!”

What was it then in the sonatas of Franz Schubert that puzzled so many important figures in the 19 century? Robert Schumann in his review of these works in 1838 criticized their "much greater simplicity of invention", claiming the sonatas "ripple along from page to page as if without end." Schumann in his review of the great C major symphony, however, remarked so poignantly about its "heavenly length." This, in my opinion, suits the sonatas just as much.

Music is an art that happens in the dimension of time. Schubert’s perception of time is unlike any other composer. I guess one can say that about almost any composer. But there is a uniqueness to the way Schubert’s works unfold in time.  I like to say that Beethoven surprises us, whereas Schubert surprises himself.  Beethoven has a very clear idea where he is aiming, and how long it is going to take - the goals, the climaxes. With Schubert you get a sense that he is unsure where the piece is going to take him. I played some years ago the big A major sonata to Claude Frank - a wonderful pianist, musician and teacher. I remember him telling me that when he played that piece he always felt that he was a driver of a Trolley somewhere in the Austrian Alps, and just before launching onto the last movement he wanted to call the audience “ALL ABOARD”.  

Listening or playing one of the grande Schubert sonatas indeed you are on a journey - you might discover along the way a hidden brook. Please stop for a moment and try to speak with it. Most likely the brook will answer. You might also encounter severe weather that will throw you out of your way. Confront it, fight it, you might succeed. I also hope that on your journey you will meet a beautiful maiden. Do fall in love with her, though let me warn you, she is most likely already engaged to the hunter. Still you should fall in love, and get hurt, and feel some hope together with despair and anger. Oh, and beware of the evil spirit. He is there somewhere, most likely disguised in the most beautiful seductive music. Perhaps what you are looking for is a place you can call home. You might never find one! These are all important awarenesses on the path to the heart of this music, to the heart of Romanticism - nature, a beautiful maiden, unfulfilled love, a talking brook, a storm, the Erlk├Ânig, being a wonderer and a stranger in any land - all of which come to life in the eternal beauty of the music of Franz Schubert.      

The c minor sonata has four movements which suggest a large symphonic scale. Also the choice of the dramatic key of c minor is obviously a homage to Beethoven (the Pathetique sonata, the variations in c minor, the 5th symphony). But there is also a homage to the divine lyricism of Mozart. It is a piece of vast dimensions written moments before the composer died at the young age of 31. It was published more than ten years after he died.

Ladies and gentlemen before I begin, please allow me to take the driver sit and call “ALL ABOARD!”