Inspired by Schubert

From the Trout Quintet to the 'Unfinished' Symphony: the BBC Music Magazine editorial team pick the works by Schubert we'd take to our desert island

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To celebrate Radio 3’s upcoming Spirit of Schubert week, we have talked to ten leading Schubert performers in the March 2012 issue of BBC Music Magazine, asking each of them to name the work that inspires them most.

So inspired were we by their choices, that we in the editorial team then decided to have a go at the same question ourselves…

Oliver CondyOliver Condy (editor)
In the final two years of his life, an ailing Schubert wrote the most astonishing amount of music: Winterreise, his tragic tale of a rejected lover; the great C major String Quintet; the last three Piano Sonatas and the Impromptus, D899 – and much besides. All of these works bear witness to the intense suffering the composer was no doubt experiencing at the hands of advanced syphillis. The pain, however, mostly doesn’t appear on the surface – what we hear instead is Schubert’s gentle resignation and acceptance of his dreadful fate. The first set of Impromptus are exquisite miniatures (No. 1 is the longest at just over ten minutes) that say so much with so little. I adore them for that simplicity that enables amateur pianists like myself to tackle the notes with relative ease, but to discover their depths for many years hence.

Helen Wallace (consultant editor)
Schubert’s C major Quintet glides into being as if it had always been there, a part of the ether. No sooner has its celestial double cello melody unfurled, spun from pure sunshine, than a shadow falls. Has C major ever been so achingly poignant? Time almost stands still in the massive slow movement, which seems to hover, shimmering, somewhere between life and death. The buoyant scherzo offers hope; then comes the trio and we’re staring into the abyss. No wonder it’s the work my grandmother chose to listen to in her dying hours. It’s music to live to, music to die to, a distillation of humanity.

Jeremy PoundJeremy Pound (deputy editor)
Much is made of Schubert’s near-unequalled ability to express dark thoughts and feelings of the utmost despair. But then, he is also the master of the good mood too and – while acknowledging the brilliance of Winterreise, Death and the Maiden and all – this is the side of him that appeals to me most. With its jovial allegro con brio clarinet tune, the opening movement of the Third Symphony is as feel-good as feel-good gets, ditto the whirling tarantella of the finale – but, alas, that galumphingly workaday Allegretto that lumbers between them lessens the appeal. So, instead, I’m going to dip my fingers into the stream and tickle The Trout quintet. The first Schubert work I ever got to know, its catchy melodies, lively interplay between instruments and overall joie-de-vivre make it still my favourite.

Rebecca FranksRebecca Franks (reviews editor)
The Death and the Maiden Quartet has a particular magic for me, even if it does show Schubert at his lowest ebb, despairing of life. Ever since I played this piece – inexpert though I am at the viola – it’s haunted and inspired me. I remember the occasion I first came across it vividly. It was in Wales, at an amateur chamber music week; we camped out under the stars, talked into the night, and played music indoors all day. A suitably romantic, isolated location to encounter this dark masterpiece of 1824, in which every movement is in a minor key. The piece begins with the quartet playing a terse, energetic triplet motif together, setting into motion an almost unbearably moving exploration of the terror of death. The experience of playing it is like nothing else.

Elizabeth DavisElizabeth Davis (editorial assistant)
Looking forward to Radio 3’s Spirit of Schubert week has provided the perfect opportunity to wallow in the composer’s gorgeous music. And although I’ve enjoyed being introduced to works I was unfamiliar with, like his Intende Voci or Harfenspieler Lieder, my favourite work by the great man remains one of his best-known: the Unfinished Symphony. A thrilling listen, Schubert’s Eighth is packed with brilliant tunes that resonate around my head for days and irresistible rhythms. But it’s not all hummable melodies: the cheerful tunes of this symphony veer into something more like hysteria and there are vertiginous drops and dark corners which entice you to return to it again and again.

Pick up a copy of the March issue of BBC Music Magazine – on sale now – to find out which works by Schubert these top musicians chose: pianist Graham Johnson, violinist and conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy, pianist Mitsuko Uchida, tenor James Gilchrist, pianist Imogen Cooper, violinist Julia Fishcer, pianist Shai Wosner, baritone Christian Gerhaher, pianist Paul Lewis and violinist and conductor Thomas Zehetmair

And if you're in the UK you can also download six free tracks by Schubert on iTunes – go to www.classical-music.com/itunes for more information