Franz Schubert
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Franz Schubert - Tantum ergo - Es-Dur D.962

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Franz Schubert.Gott ist mein Hirt.Monteverdi Choir.John Eliott Gardiner

My colleague in the opera chorus was aghast when I mentioned that I think Schubert is a third- or fourth-rate composer. In the past this type of encounter was full of loud talking/shouting and expletives.

I recall one such exchange regarding Wagner and Verdi — the basic argument boiled down to calling each other “effing idiots” every other statement.

Nowadays, the tone tends to be more contemplative and even-keeled. I suppose the polemics of the youthful are no longer my forte.

Sometimes I miss them.

Back to Schubert. There is no doubt that he was a gifted composer who wrote volumes of music containing some immortal moments. The more I’ve listened to Schubert this week, the more I’ve become frustrated with what he does with his material.

It is his material, so who am I to be frustrated? Here is my frustration. A piece by Schubert will start off with an extraordinary melody — take your pick — even The Ninth Symphony, which I now hate, starts with a glorious solo for the horn. Schubert then proceeds to do nothing with it.

His famous setting of Psalm 23 for chorus does the same thing. He writes a transcendent progression and then repeats it a few times.

The Tantum Ergo, which I adore, does the same thing. It becomes infuriating. The Tantum Ergo starts with an achingly beautiful segment for the quintet of soloists and then the chorus sings it note for note after them. There is a slight shift and then he repeats the opening again.

Ave Maria does the same thing. Schubert writes a tune for the ages, gives us a brief key change and then repeats it three times. This is why I prefer the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria but it’s much more challenging to sing so it doesn’t get the air time that Schubert does.

If I hadn’t started buzzing my hair off, I’d pull it out after listening to Schubert this week.

I still love him. How can I not?

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