GUEST BLOG—Discovering the Art of Schubert’s Lieder

I’m Rick Phillips and I’ve been leading music seminars at Toronto Pursuits for ten years. I can’t imagine a summer without Toronto Pursuits—it is always a stimulating experience.

Franz_Schubert_by_Wilhelm_August_Rieder_1875For July 2015, I’ll be leading the seminar Follow the Lieder: The Songs of Franz Schubert on German lieder and, in particular, the songs and song cycles of Franz Schubert. The lied is the German art song of the 19th century. Although it can be traced back to medieval times, its greatest period begins with Schubert. Most of us would believe that a song composer begins by selecting a suitable text, creating a melodic vocal line to match, and composing a piano part to accompany. But Schubert went much further, developing an original approach that opened up fresh artistic possibilities, thus establishing the lied as a whole new art form. Text, music, singer and pianist combined with equal importance to create miniature, un-staged musical dramas.

Of course, Schubert was helped by the flowering of late 18th- and early 19th-century lyric poetry as well as by the quickly developing range and possibilities of the piano, but it was his genius that was really responsible. His skill and talent in being able to capture in music the spirit of the text, mood and emotional transformations, and imagery and detail are almost beyond compare. It is not so much how Schubert set a text to music, but rather how he translated the text into the language of music. And he provided further development by way of his song cycles—collections of songs linked together by a common theme or narrative thread.

220px-Moritz_von_Schwind_SchubertiadeIn this seminar, we will be listening to recordings of a variety of Schubert songs and song cycles while following the texts, and then discussing. Our goal will be to observe how Schubert creates. Because each person will come to our seminar with a different level of musical knowledge and experience, part of my job will be to create a level playing field to allow everyone to participate freely. There is no need to read or write music. A modified Shared Inquiry method will be in place. I will provide context, concepts and background, but then open up to comments and discussion from all. Feel free to listen to Schubert lieder before, but arrive with an open mind and fresh ears, leaving preconceived notions, opinions and musical tastes behind.

I never tire of the Schubert lieder—they are an incredible artistic achievement and powerful form of expression. Our week at Toronto Pursuits will prove to be a rewarding voyage of music and discovery!

Rick

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