Franz Schubert got a lot done, didn’t he? All those symphonies, all that piano music, all those chamber pieces, a good number of operas—and more than six hundred songs. Schubert squeezed his œuvre into thirty-one years (not that he got started as a baby). Mozart had thirty-five. I remember something a friend told me one day: If Beethoven had lived only as long as Schubert, we would have just one symphony from him. Just the First.
That concentrates the mind.
As you go along in life, you keep hearing Schubert pieces you never knew existed. Recently, I was writing about an early piece by Helmut Lachenmann, the German composer born in 1935: Five Variations on a Theme by Franz Schubert. And the theme? A waltz in C-sharp minor, D. 643.
Who knew? I didn’t, at any rate.
Around Christmas, Riccardo Muti made a video for his musicians back in Chicago. Muti is the music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He simply wanted to send them a token of his affection and respect. What he did was sit down at the piano and play the Kupelwieser Waltz.
Huh? Leopold Kupelwieser was an artist, born in 1796, and a friend of Schubert. The artist got married in 1826. To honor them, Schubert composed the couple a little waltz in G-flat major. According to lore, the waltz was never written down. It was played and enjoyed by descendants of the couple, generation after generation. Finally, one of these descendants played the waltz for Richard Strauss. This was during World War II, in 1943. Strauss transcribed the waltz—which was at last published in 1970.
“Very delicate,” says Muti of the Kupelwieser Waltz, and “very nostalgic.” Also expressive of “best wishes for the marriage and for the future of this couple.”
To see Muti’s video, go here. Just before he plays the piece, he says, “It’s quite unknown but very beautiful.”
I am reminded of something that Muti once told me about Antonino Votto, one of his teachers. Votto was a conductor and voice coach (1896–1985). He was also a pianist. He could play anything, said Muti—absolutely anything. Pieces he learned as a child, he could call up in an instant.
Like me, I bet, you will enjoy hearing Riccardo Muti play the piano, and salute the Chicagoans, and pay homage to this extraordinary composer, Franz Schubert.