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I base my ideas of how Schubert should sound on a number of interpretations I have heard over the years. One acquires a preconception of the right and wrong ways of playing his music, but how do you actually control your rubati without disturbing the flow, so that it knits into the textures, rhythmic line and overall character?

'Schubert is most difficult, because the music is so natural in expression, and it is most important to maintain the long melodic lines. Indulge too much in detail and you miss the overview. This is where most interpreters fall flat on their faces -- I was guilty of this in the past.

'By playing Schubert a lot, you learn not to lose sight of the structure -- this is the aim that every pianist should have. He is often accused of being un-pianistic, but I don't share that view. He didn't write specifically for the piano in the same sense that Chopin and Liszt did -- you can say that his music doesn't lie beautifully under the hand, and so on; but his conception was often orchestral, or chamber-like (you can often hear four voices as in a string quartet), and sometimes operatic. Of course, the song element was always there'.

You don't have to be a native of Vienna to play Schubert's music ...

'Absolutely not! Take Debussy. He wrote some works so imbued with Spanish characteristics, and La Soirée dans Grenade has never been equalled by any Spanish composer. Falla admired it, but Debussy in fact never went to Spain. It is inner understanding and insight. I studied at the Vienna State Academy and visited many of the places that Schubert frequented, but to be honest, this doesn't make you a Schubert player. A pianist must study his total output -- songs, symphonies, and chamber music -- that is the minimum requirement -- and during his thirty-one years he encompassed all the emotions and expressed them superbly.

'The anguish and the happiness: take the Sonata in D major, third movement, second subject, which is just like café music: Schubert elevates it to great art. His dances, which I hope to record complete, are delightful gems of the first order. The expression, even more than usual, appears to be naively natural, but the sketches of the last three sonatas are so extensive and detailed that you begin to realise how much thought went into their composition. Where Beethoven struggled, reforming and reworking his themes, Schubert's original inspirations are refined progressively by stages. Study them and you discover enormous logic, like passages in double counterpoint. The D major Sonata could really be called Schubert's Hammerklavier, the composer completely at home with the instrument, the music very bold, very grand. And it has the longest of slow movements.'

Evolving the correct performing style for Schubert goes back to source material. 'I studied the autographs, and also the way he worked with sketches and fair copies. Listening to great lieder singers influenced me more than other pianists because of the song element. Fischer-Dieskau's singing was an education to me, although Schnabel's playing was also a great influence.'

'The musical language is universal -- we are dealing with vibrations of a very high order, which we try to communicate through our own awareness and understanding. In my case it is an ever-growing process which allows me a glimpse into his wonderful world, but I don't believe in a definitive interpretation: one always aims at something finer, and piano practice is no substitute for one's experience of life. In Artur Rubinstein's case, his experiences gave expression to his performances : without them he would have been a dull pianist.'

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Copyright © 22 December 2002 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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