“The world is still a long way from recognising that Schubert was one of the greatest composers ever, in all kinds of genres. Schubert has such modernity – perhaps his time has only arrived now. Most composers of today understand that – composers like Kurtág, Ligeti, Rihm or Zender worship Schubert. His is the most moving music ever written.” – András Schiff in a BBC interview in 1997. Un-der-recognised as he was in his own lifetime, Schubert’s achievement was not lost on the most pre-scient of his contemporaries, and Schumann, for one, was quick to grasp the innovative implications of the 1822 Fantasy for piano, later called the ‘Wanderer’: “Schubert wanted to combine an entire orchestra in two hands, and the rapturous beginning is a seraphic hymn in praise of the Deity.”
The symphonic ambitions of the ‘Wanderer’ (the nickname derived from the late 19th century) made it a most influential piece of music. As Misha Donat notes, “The ‘Wanderer’, in particular, was a piece that exerted a palpable influence on generations of composers to come. Liszt, who made his own highly skilful transcription of the work for piano and orchestra, was inspired by Schubert’s ex-ample to write his great Sonata in B minor; and the nature of Schubert’s scherzo ... is one whose echo can be heard in the ‘Mephistopheles’ third movement of Liszt’s Faust symphony... Unified one-movement structures similar to those of the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy continued to make their mark until well into the 20th century – not least, in the early works of Schoenberg.”
A comprehensively difficult piece of music to perform well (it is said that even Schubert himself was confounded by the cascading arpeggios of its concluding fugue), the ‘Wanderer’ journeys through a complex gamut of emotions. Schubert biographer Elizabeth Norman McKay has written, “(This is) the most extraordinary of all his works for solo piano. The music is at times lyrical, reflective and restrained, and at others wildly energetic and unrelentingly aggressive – uniquely so for Schubert. Did the composition of the Fantasy mark some particularly traumatic experience' ... This is the music of a man masking his despair with overconfidence; it is angry, uncompromising, with an almost sin-ister exuberance.” Fellow Schubert scholar Richard Wigmore agrees, guardedly, with this reading: “It is of course dangerous to draw too close a parallel between any artist’s life and work ... All great music has an autonomous life that transcends verbal exegesis. But it is hard to escape the feeling that many of Schubert’s later works are shot through with an awareness of impending doom. Sometimes, as in the rebarbative closing fugue of the wanderer Fantasy, Schubert seems to triumph over despair with a titanic, obsessive rhythmic energy that recalls Beethoven.”
The “Wanderer” is paired on the present disc with Schubert’s other C major Fantasy – his Opus 934, for violin and piano. This was premiered in Vienna in 1828 by the brilliant young pianist Karl Maria von Bocklet (who also played the first known public performance of the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy) to-gether with the no less dazzling violin virtuoso Josef Slavík, whom Chopin described as “a great and truly inspired violinist who knows how to enchant the listener and move men to tears.”
Slavík’s talents however failed to rouse the jaded appetites of the Viennese salon audience, who – according to a contemporary press report – were disinclined to go the full distance with Schubert’s meditations on things spiritual. Although, as Misha Donat maintains, “No work of Schubert’s begins more beautifully or more hauntingly than this one, with the quiet rustle of a tremolo on the piano...” the composition was overlooked for many years: the Fantasy D 934 is one of Schubert’s many large-scale works to have been undervalued through the 19th century, and was published for the first time only in 1850. “During the following decades it was generally played – if it was played at all – in a mutilated ‘transcription’, in which the central variations were transposed from A flat major into A major.” It was not until Rudolf Serkin and Adolf Busch recorded this Fantasy in the 1930s that it finally began to attract overdue attention. Since then it has come, belatedly, to be seen as one of the most touching and also one of the most mysterious pieces amongst the “late works” of Schubert’s short life.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1953, András Schiff, “a unique poetic voice among pianists” (Gramophone) began to study piano at the age of five, taking lessons with Elisabeth Vadasz. Subsequently he continued his musical education at the Liszt Academy in his hometown, with teachers including György Kurtág, Pál Kadosa and Ferenc Rados as well as, in London, George Malcolm.
Today he is widely regarded as one of the world’s most exceptional musicians, valued for his thoughtful and inspired interpretations, for his unbending commitment to the art of music. Celebrated for his recitals, concerto performance and contributions as a chamber musician, he has also initiated many special projects, including cycles featuring the major keyboard works of Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and Bartók. In recent seasons he has emphasised the complete piano sonatas of Franz Schubert, performing the six-recital cycle in New York, London, Vienna, Milan, Salzburg, Budapest, Cologne, Paris, Berlin, Tokyo and elsewhere. (Despite this definitive reckoning with Schubert, András Schiff had not previously recorded either the Wanderer Fantasy or the Fantasy D934.)
Schiff has received very many prizes for his recordings and performances. The long list includes Grammy Awards, a Gramophone Award, the Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, the Mozart Prize of the City of Vienna, the Premio Abbiati in Italy, and the Claudio Arrau Memorial Medal of the Robert Schumann Society. He made his ECM debut in 1999 with the widely acclaimed “Music for Two Pianos” with friend and colleague Peter Serkin and a repertoire of Mozart, Reger and Busoni.
András Schiff’s extensive concert schedule in the first half of 2000 takes in performances in Switzerland, Spain, England, Italy, Germany and Austria (for details consult the ECM web site at www.ecmrecords.com).
Yuuko Shiokawa was born in Tokyo and began playing violin at the age of five. After studies in Peru with Eugen Cremer she came to Europe where she studied with Wilhelm Stross and Sándor Végh. At 19, she won both the Memdelssohn Prize and the Preis der Deutschen Musikhochschulen and began to give concerts throughout Europe under conductors including Rafael Kubelik, Herbert von Karajan, and Herbert Blomstedt. Greatly impressed by her playing, Rafael Kubelik in 1967 placed at her dis-posal a 1715 Stradivarius violin that had belonged to the conductor’s father, Czech com-poser/violinist Jan Kubelik.
Yuuko Shiokawa has given concerts with many orchestras including the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the London Symphony, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo. Since 1969 she has also given concerts regularly in Japan.
Her multi-faceted chamber music activities include solo recitals world-wide, sonata evenings with Bruno Canino and András Schiff and performance cycles of the collected sonatas for violin and piano of W.A. Mozart.