Schiff and Schubert

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Belle
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Schiff and Schubert

Post by Belle » Thu Jan 10, 2019 2:13 pm

I just found this little excerpt from a masterclass with Schiff and was struck by his imagination and how we formulated a visual and aural image for his student, which makes absolute sense.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UmeOeLJiuJc

What are alternate pathways into the interpretation of Schubert if one doesn't subscribe to the Schiff view that the composer was reflecting the daily life of the world around him? What are the more universal elements of that composer's music that transcend locale? Is it even necessary to think 'locally' - short of overtly nationalistic music - in order to interpret individual composers? Audiences not from Vienna won't find any special significance in those rhythms in the Schubert piece; they'll merely know whether they like it or not. Others may already find it explicitly implied in the music and performance. Can an Austrian pianist have a deeper understanding of Schubert than a Chinese one?

This duo-performance of Schubert's 3 Marches Militaires doesn't seem to have that lilt referred to be Schiff, being rather heavy-handed at times and even too fast:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kYkb0Jgod0

John F
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by John F » Thu Jan 10, 2019 2:46 pm

Here's a quite different way of playing the piece, by Artur Schnabel, with a distinctive rhythm.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLzv1xFGXQQ

There's a Vienna connection: Schnabel studied there with Theodor Leschetizky, who had studied with Carl Czerny, who was Beethoven's most important pupil and interpreter of his piano music.Since Schnabel played no other music this way, I'm inclined to think of it as not personal but stemming from a Viennese tradition, as Viennese orchestras play Johann Strauss waltzes.

Oddly enough, Prokofiev played his gavotte op. 32 with similar rhythm - though maybe it's not so odd. The Schubert piece is a gavotte, though he didn't call it that, and Prokofiev's teacher was Annette Essipova, a pupil of Leschetizky, then his assistant, then his wife.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yte4Efwfjqc
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Belle
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Belle » Thu Jan 10, 2019 5:57 pm

I love the Schnabel. It's quite different from the Schiff approach in that Schnabel picks up on the somewhat vertiginous nature of the appoggiaturas and rhythms and also, paradoxically, its implied insouciance. However, there is menacing side, isn't there? I think Schiff's approach seems to avoid that to concentrate on the Viennese lilt - if I can put it like that. I remember hearing Schiff playing these pieces as encores in the Wiener Konzerthaus in 2011 and thinking it was a bit too lyrical, with less emphasis on the subtle, sometimes vaguely defined, oppositional overtones.

Here is Brendel with the same work - D780 - at 11:58. Subtle rubato but a concentration on the decorative elements, but his is a somewhat darker vision. We get a sense, as in "Erlkönig, that Brendel's is a vaguely demonic piece that is conveying the dancer into a dangerous spiral. The joyful lilt of Schiff is largely absent. Ergo, is the 'Viennese' element also missing?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WDQL_X7Euk

That gavotte by Prokofiev is a favourite of mine; what a composer!!

barney
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by barney » Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:14 pm

Brendel, of course, IS Viennese, is he not?
I learnt these works with Brendel; I think he is quite luminous and deeply sensitive. He is pretty young in that YouTube clip.

John F
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by John F » Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:39 pm

Josef Hofmann used to teach that the musician should have a poetic idea of the music before he starts to play it, and Schiff has at least two: the clip-clop of fiaker horses in the street, and a gypsy band in a Heuriger. To tell the truth, it doesn't sound that Viennese to me, but I like it.

From this brief sample, he's a rather suffocating teacher, not allowing the student to play more than a few bars before instructing and showing her how to play it, i.e. how he plays it.

Alfred Brendel isn't Viennese, actually - he's from Czechoslovakia and studied for a while in Graz, and says the great influence on him was a master class with Edwin Fischer, the German-Swiss pianist. His contemporaries Paul Badura-Skoda and Jörg Demus were products of Vienna, having lived and attended the conservatory there. They made some fine recordings of Mozart's and Schubert's duo-piano music.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLzgZR4JtOo
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Lance
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Lance » Thu Jan 10, 2019 10:59 pm

An interesting subject for sure. I have collected many recordings by András Schiff and have never been disappointed. He has recorded prolifically for a number of labels and his complete set of Schubert sonatas on Decca [478 3018, 9 CDs, includes both sets of Impromptus, Moments Musicaux, Hungarian Melody, 3 Klavierstücke, Landler, and more. Of the more contemporary recordings, this set will not fail to please most Schubertians.

But, Artur Schnabel, being a Leschetizky pupil, brings forth the essence of Schubert's music. I attribute much of the beauty of his piano tone to his Bechstein pianos, which offer a glowing, non-strident sound which — with it's warmth of tone beautifully — "carries." Add to the mixture of a musical interpretation and in-depth knowledge of the music and you have something very special.

For many years, my favourite of Alfred Brendel's recordings appeared on the Vox label. I still maintain that his recording of the eight Impromptus is one of the finest I have ever heard. He had recently completed his studies with legendary Edwin Fischer, another great Schubert/Beethoven pianist. I have all of Brendel's recordings, but with the Impromptus, I prefer the Vox and the musical sensitivity conveyed therein. Schnabel continues to set a certain standard in the performance of Beethoven's and Schubert's works.

And in regard to Schubert's B-flat, Op. Posth. Sonata, I have never found a performance I have enjoyed more for its total artistic beauty than that of Clara Haskil, recorded around 1951 for Philips (now on Decca). For more modern-era recordings, I have enjoyed both the A Major- and B-Flat posthumous sonatas by Rudolf Serkin, another Bohemian pianist who was in and around teachers and pianists familiar with the "Viennese" style. Serkin's performances offer the big, broad Steinway sound, quite different than Schnabel, but very introspective nonetheless.
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Belle
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Belle » Fri Jan 11, 2019 1:54 am

John F wrote:
Thu Jan 10, 2019 9:39 pm
Josef Hofmann used to teach that the musician should have a poetic idea of the music before he starts to play it, and Schiff has at least two: the clip-clop of fiaker horses in the street, and a gypsy band in a Heuriger. To tell the truth, it doesn't sound that Viennese to me, but I like it.

From this brief sample, he's a rather suffocating teacher, not allowing the student to play more than a few bars before instructing and showing her how to play it, i.e. how he plays it.

Alfred Brendel isn't Viennese, actually - he's from Czechoslovakia and studied for a while in Graz, and says the great influence on him was a master class with Edwin Fischer, the German-Swiss pianist. His contemporaries Paul Badura-Skoda and Jörg Demus were products of Vienna, having lived and attended the conservatory there. They made some fine recordings of Mozart's and Schubert's duo-piano music.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLzgZR4JtOo
Absolutely beautiful recording of the March Militaire; elegant and graceful compared with the one I posted. Is 'grace' the essence of the Viennese style? I'm not sure because Brendel spent a lot of time in Austria but his works are often dramatic and insightful rather than elegant and graceful. I love the drama he creates alongside lyricism in his Impromptus, for example. I generally find his a more satisfying Schubert than Schiff's, to be honest:

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x3vug9x

Regarding the mental images for the realization of piano works - especially miniatures, one would presume - I'm sure they work if the audience has the same or similar image when hearing the works. Surely this applies more to 'programmatic' than 'absolute' music? And I totally agree about him being a somewhat suffocating master class teacher, having seen quite a few of them over the years. Where is the room provided for the individual interpretation of the musician, which was the point of my original comments - although tangentially. I'll ask again the question I originally posed: "Can an Austrian pianist have a deeper understanding of Schubert than a Chinese one?

John F
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by John F » Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:54 am

Belle wrote:Is 'grace' the essence of the Viennese style?
Possibly so, if you consider (for example) the style and sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. It's certainly characteristic of the Viennese people, at least those I know - which doesn't mean that the grace can't hide some rather more difficult qualities, as with Karl Kraus.

Belle wrote:Regarding the mental images for the realization of piano works - especially miniatures, one would presume - I'm sure they work if the audience has the same or similar image when hearing the works. Surely this applies more to 'programmatic' than 'absolute' music?
Hofmann wouldn't think so, and neither does Alfred Brendel, who said something similar talking about his approach to the Diabelli Variations. For him the function of poetic images is private, to ready him to convey each variation's individual specific character.

One of Brendel's examples was the first variation, for which he said his private image is a pompous, boastful "entry of the gladiators." But we in the audience are not meant to think of gladiators when we hear him play that music. It's an essentially humorous image, like the entry of Miles Gloriosus in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," when he sings, "I am a parade." :D Brendel considers the Diabellis a largely though of course not entirely humorous work, as befits variations on the "Schusterfleck" of a theme. Other pianists may differ, and their poetic images (if they have any) might be quite different.

Paul Badura-Skoda recorded Schubert's B flat op. posth. sonata several times in the '50s and '60s, and the one on Bärenreiter seems to me particularly beautiful. It's not on YouTube, but his first recording (made in his 20s for Westminster) gives an idea of it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ENI6OYi_uMc
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maestrob
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by maestrob » Fri Jan 11, 2019 12:12 pm

Fascinating topic, thank you all!

I agree with Lance about Brendel's early Vox recording of the Schubert Impromptus being his best. I, too, have all of Brendel's recordings, and the early Impromtus are simply magical.

My favorite set of Schubert Sonatas is not Schiff, who is very good, but Wilhelm Kempff's on DGG. Kempff's Impromptus, OTOH, don't sit well with me because of some of his tempo choices, but that's just me. Kempff had a magical touch in the Sonatas, which other players lack. MHO, of course.

arepo
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by arepo » Fri Jan 11, 2019 12:50 pm

eThanks to a gift from a dear friend, I just listened to the DG recordings of Kempff's complete Schubert piano sonatas, which are simply outstanding and a revelation for me.

Frankly, there are so many fine Schubert interpreters, including Serkin, Uchida, Brendel, Schnabel, Lupu, among others.

All things considered, Andras Schiff remains in my mind the world's finest pianist and His Schubert recordings are an example of his enormous skills.

cliftwood

Belle
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Belle » Fri Jan 11, 2019 3:57 pm

I meant 'grace' in the musical sense - the waltzes and the lyrical qualities of Mozart and Schubert in particular and - as you rightly suggest - the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic. And I have read Brendel's comments in his essays (which I have on my bookshelf). My question is 'might Brendel attempt to convey his personal images to another pianist in a masterclass' as though that image was somehow a cultural one (as in the case of Schiff and his comments about Schubert)? How might this apply to the Chinese musician, as posed in the previous question, and his/her understanding of a composer like Schubert, his culture and the subtext and drama behind a miniature such as that being discussed here?

And I'd be keen to know whether mental images are legitimate at all to negotiate those last great Schubert sonatas, or even the last Beethoven sonatas? All are extended pieces of music which are essays and not programmatic miniatures. Schubert's Op. 959 contains that beautiful, lyrical final movement which is so very Austrian (almost like an anthem). Ergo, does it require an especial cultural understanding? Here with Kempff: one wonders what Schiff might have instructed his musician in a masterclass!! I might have said, "even though this work is an extended essay it's important to understand that Schubert was writing in classical models, in the main, but his music is a combination of longer lines of melody as well as thematic fragments developed motivically. Ergo, it contains unique challenges". Something like that!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RSEHbtwyXPg

Here's Kovacevich in a masterclass with of Beethoven Op. 101 and you'll notice his is a focus on interpretation of phrasing and dynamics; for example, not repeating the same phrases exactly the same as those before, etc. What I'm suggesting is that an extended musical essay requires a different interpretive approach since its drama and tension is built into its structure and does not necessarily require, or ask for, external imagery.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM0_WhCvjm0
Last edited by Belle on Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

John F
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by John F » Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:45 pm

As I said, the images Brendel uses to focus his playing are entirely personal. He has never taught, as far as I know. Of course anything in an artist's mind regarding any music is "legitimate" - why not? What counts is not his thinking or intention but the music he makes, by whatever means work for him. (Or her, of course.) He spoke of this in an interview, responding to a question, Hofmann did teach - one of his pupils was Shura Cherkassky - and no doubt the poetic idea was part of his teaching, but there are no details about him.

Again as I suggested, I don't think much of Schiff as a teacher, based on the brief YouTube sample. More generally, I don't think it requires Austrian cultural understanding to play Schubert's music well The Romanian Dinu Lipatti played two of the op. 90 impromptus beautifully, and the American pianist William Kapell made an outstanding recording of op. 142 no. 2. Both of them died too young - a terrible loss to music.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kxhRN-4pL8
Last edited by John F on Sat Jan 12, 2019 4:00 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Belle
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Belle » Fri Jan 11, 2019 7:50 pm

Perfection. Thank you for posting it and for your, as ever, erudite contributions.

Ricordanza
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Ricordanza » Sat Jan 12, 2019 7:20 am

John F wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 4:45 pm
As I said, the images Brendel uses to focus his playing are entirely personal. He has never taught, as far as I know.
Imogen Cooper was one of his students. I'm sure there were others.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imogen_Cooper

Rach3
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by Rach3 » Sat Jan 12, 2019 8:33 am

Ricordanza wrote:
Sat Jan 12, 2019 7:20 am
Imogen Cooper was one of his students. I'm sure there were others.
I believe also Paul Lewis, possibly Kit Armstrong as well.

arepo
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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by arepo » Sat Jan 12, 2019 9:39 am

I second the nomination of Imogen Cooper to the list of exceptional Schubert interpreters.

Heard her recently and she was superb. She is very underrated, IMHO.

Hello, Henry. :D

cliftwood

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Re: Schiff and Schubert

Post by maestrob » Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:27 am

arepo wrote:
Fri Jan 11, 2019 12:50 pm
eThanks to a gift from a dear friend, I just listened to the DG recordings of Kempff's complete Schubert piano sonatas, which are simply outstanding and a revelation for me.

Frankly, there are so many fine Schubert interpreters, including Serkin, Uchida, Brendel, Schnabel, Lupu, among others.

All things considered, Andras Schiff remains in my mind the world's finest pianist and His Schubert recordings are an example of his enormous skills.

cliftwood
Hi, cliftwood! Nice to see you here: you've been missed!

Mostly agree with your statements above. :) Schiff has produced some very fine Schubert in his day.

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