Songs for Schubert

In honor of the composer’s birthday, the annual Schubertiade takes place around the country.

Dr. Raz Cohen (photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
Dr. Raz Cohen
(photo credit: ARIEL BESOR)
Franz Schubert may not have been overly lauded during his all-too-brief lifetime, but he has been receiving plenty of posthumous kudos around the world for the last couple of centuries. And, lack of superstar status notwithstanding, it seems the Vienna-born composer had a warm social circle and, once a year, on his birthday, he and some of his friends would get together for some fun, food and music making.
The spirit of those soirees has been revived here over the last decade with the Schubertiade series of concerts, which takes place annually around the time of the composer’s birthday, January 31.
This year’s round of performances, overseen by the event’s founder, cellist Dr. Raz Cohen, will take place on January 28 to February 6 at such venues as the Israel Music Conservatory in Tel Aviv, Hechal Hatarbut in Rishon Lezion, the Mishkan Performing Arts Center in Ra’anana, and the auditorium of the Mormon University in Jerusalem.
The Schubertiade follows on the heels of the Toujours Mozart Festival, which takes place at the Elma Arts Center in Zichron Ya’acov next week. Both Mozart and Schubert hailed from Austria, and both died in their 30s. But, says Cohen, that is where the similarities end.
“Schubert was born in Vienna, while Mozart wasn’t. That is a very important matter for Austrians,” he says. (Mozart was born in Salzburg.) Despite their similar lifespans, Mozart had a much longer compositional stretch, writing his first work at the age of five, while Schubert began composing at 16.
“That means that Schubert composed for 15 years, compared with Mozart’s 30 years,” Cohen notes. “It is hard to grasp how much Schubert managed to produce in just 15 years. He also wrote 10 operas. And the majority of Schubert’s works are still performed, which is not the case with Mozart.”
The levels of success which the two composers achieved during their lifetime also contrast greatly.
While Mozart enjoyed great wealth for a number of years, Schubert spent most of his life trying desperately to make ends meet.
“He didn’t manage to arrive at a situation whereby his music was performed while he was alive,” says Cohen. “He wasn’t flamboyant at all, and he didn’t really know how to grab the attention of the public and wealthy patrons. He lived modestly.”
The birthday musical gatherings were a source of comfort and encouragement for Schubert, and it was at the cozy annual events that the composer’s writing forte came to the fore.
“If there is one thing that Schubert contributed to the musical world, it is the development of the German song, the lied. Other composers wrote lieder before him, people like Mozart and Beethoven, but with Schubert the lieder took on completely different proportions,” he Cohen.
classical uuuu DR. RAZ COHEN (Ariel Besor) PAGE 4 | THE JERUSALEM POST | www. j p o s t . c o m | B I L L BOARD – E N T E RTAINMENT GUIDE Billboard He adds that Schubert was almost obsessive about developing the art of songwriting.
“He was always researching and looking for texts. He got together with many poets, including some who were hardly known, and whose poems took on a new lease on life to Schubert’s music. Schubert also wrote comfortably and easily, unlike Beethoven, who anguished over his compositions,” he elaborates.
There are plenty of vocal works in the Schubertiade lineup. The opening concert in Tel Aviv, for example, features internationally renowned soprano Claire Meghnagi, who will join forces with Germany-based Trio Bamberg, pianist Or Re’em and a new choir comprising graduates of the Thelma Yellin High School of the Arts.
Soprano Yael Levita will be on hand to perform in the Six Flower Songs for Soprano and Piano concert in Rishon Lezion and in Jerusalem. Meghnagi will also appear in the Ra’anana and Haifa concerts.
The artistic director had plenty of vocal scores to choose from.
“I think Schubert wrote 676 songs.
That is an amazing body of work. He had an incredible facility for expressing the lyrics in his music. He is the first, and the most important, composer to do that. There were others, like Schumann and Brahms, who later wrote music for lieder, but Schubert set the tone for everyone,” he says.
Schubert also helped to further the importance of the piano.
“He greatly upgraded the role of the piano,” says Cohen. “That was a great revolution in classical song. Schubert placed the pianist on an equal footing with the singer. There was a genuine dialogue between the two parts.”
There is also a strong feminine theme to some of the concerts. The Tel Aviv opener includes Schubert’s Stabat Mater, which is traditionally an ode to Mary, followed by an aria for soprano from the music Schubert wrote for Rosamunde, three arrangements of choral songs, and the ever-popular “Ave Maria.” The second part of the concert program includes Schubert’s Piano Trio in B Flat.
Cohen uses the annual Schubert tribute to explore new areas of the composer’s oeuvre.
“I don’t think there is anyone in the world who is familiar with all of Schubert’s works, not even lieder experts like Graham Johnson. It is always wonderful to discover new works of his – for me, for the musicians and for the audience,” says Cohen.
The Schubertiade takes place January 28 to February 6. For tickets and information: Tel Aviv (03) 546-6228; Rishon Lezion (03) 948-4840; Haifa (04) 836-3804; Jerusalem [email protected]; Ra’anana (09) 745-7773 ext. 602; Beit Shemesh (02) 991-9761 and 054-471-7082; Beersheba (08) 626-6400 ext. 1.