[John refrains from asking the useless questions, and has an interesting experience that may yet lead onward.]
Listening to Schubert
by John Dorsey Wolf
Last Saturday night, we attended a small venue performance of two of Franz Schubert’s works that he wrote in his prolific 31st and last year of his life. One was F Minor Fantasy for Four Hands, D940, (which a husband-wife duo played on the piano) and the other was one of his final three piano Sonatas, D960.
If we connect to an author by reading their books, then perhaps we connect to composers when we listen to their music. It was a quiet environment, with just the sounds of the music, so I decided to experiment.
I asked in my mind, “Did you know you were dying when you wrote this?” Almost instantly there was an answer: “No, but I knew I was very ill.” I was a bit taken back. As Frank has taught us, one characteristic of connection is answers arriving almost simultaneously with the question, so despite all the usual concerns about the validity, I continued while the music played.
There was sufficient room in this brief dialogue for plenty of misinterpretation and distortion, and to add to it I was not able to put down notes until we were home later in the evening. Given all the caveats, here are some of the thoughts that came with the music:
Schubert’s life as he was living it felt rushed and driven from the inside out. His drives and emotions were very strong and it shows in the life he had. Now he sees that those drives and emotions were from his constituents (“strands” as Rita refers to them). It was his challenge and opportunity to put them together.
Music was his expression, but more than that, the expression of his combined constituents. His totality and his becoming whole was via his music composition.
His life as an expression is quite notable (pardon the pun) and can be replayed by replaying the music. He can hear himself in his expression via listeners and performers of his music.
Nevertheless, our lives are no less of an expression than his was. We bring together our constituents and express them as a whole just as Schubert did with his compositions of music. We express our totality and, although we may not understand the symphony we’re playing, we are making “beautiful music” with our lives as well.
I picked up something about variations or themes in the music that represented each of his fundamental constituents, and thought I got the number 22. I did find later that he had 32 “introductory variations” to a companion piano Sonata, D958.
When he was writing the music I was listening to, he knew he was inserting at times his darker moods and emotions, but now he recognizes the beauty of those parts of the music, particularly in the context of the whole.
We may see dark parts of our lives, parts we label as “bad” or even “evil”, but eventually we will understand they are also parts of a greater symphony, and we will understand them differently. We each are a symphony, or series of symphonies, while simultaneously a part of a larger one.
That’s how the concert went, as best as I can remember and translate it.
Did any of this actually come via Schubert or a “greater Schubert”? I haven’t the slightest idea. And actually I really don’t think it matters. It made for a very interesting and different way to tune into a concert.
Addendum: I sent the above to my sister, who has a whole family of professional musicians and discovered that as I was attending the Schubert concert in the Seattle area, she was attending one as well, in St. Louis. She was listening to his 9th Symphony, “The Great,” which incidentally has 22 variations.