Encores & Curtain Calls
“No one feels another’s grief, no one understands another’s joy. People imagine they can reach one another. In reality they only pass each other by.”
— Franz Schubert
When composers are spoken about, perhaps no other creator gets the greatest share of votes for sweetness and innocence as does Franz Schubert. While a contemporary of the Olympian Beethoven, and a composer of some eight symphonies, 21 piano sonatas, operas, some 600 songs and a large number of chamber works, it is challenging to imagine just how the young man that he was could have summoned all of this and more by the tender age of just 31, after which death claimed him.
But it is eloquent testimony to Schubert’s radiance that his music was championed by no less than the romantic master-composers Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn, the redoubtable Johannes Brahms and the visionary Franz Liszt — who saw greatness in his open-hearted Muses.
Music in Deerfield’s last offering of the season features Trio Latitude 41 on May 11, at 8 p.m., in Sweeney Concert Hall at Smith College. The string trio will perform the works of Schubert and Saint-Saens — the former’s Nocturne in Eb and trio in Eb and the latter’s piano trio in F Major. There will be a pre-concert talk with the performer’s and WFCR’s John Montanari at 7:30 p.m. in Earle Recital Hall.
Where Beethoven stormed, Schubert soliloquized; where Beethoven hammered, Schubert beseeched; where Beethoven bellowed, Schubert sang. Gentility and a certain indescribable humility of spirit characterize the art of Schubert as surely as do the power, might and relentlessness of Beethoven.
The nocturne has traditionally come to be an expression of the more internal, less visible dimension of feeling, perhaps analogous to the transition we experience in the “Twilight Zone” between waking and sleep. As such, nocturnes — unlike more traditional musical forms such as the symphony and the sonata — don’t feel compelled by the necessity to make a “big splash,” as it were, either at their outset or conclusion, to stir their listeners into rousing applause.
And while some concert-goers may miss the conventional fireworks of more dramatic music, the “music of quietude” exemplified in nocturnes or serenades bears many wonderful fruits of its own. For one, it allows one to settle in and “go into the zone,” musically speaking, and for those listening to experience a meditation of their own. Unlike pieces in which reflective sections alternate with more agitated ones, the nocturne guarantees us — usually — that we’ll be staying on a steady and tranquil keel throughout, not unlike the 747 pilot telling us we’re now above cloud level and that our flight will be steady as she goes until touchdown.
Such — with marginal exceptions — is Schubert’s Nocturne in Eb for piano trio (violin, cello and piano). Like Mozart, it is often music of disarming and, sometimes, deceptive simplicity, rich in melody and sweetness. Indeed, in an imagined musical heaven, I see these two creators — each seemingly born fully fledged, like Athena from the head of Zeus — as soul brothers.
They both prized simplicity, clarity of texture and beauty of sound above all else and wrote straight from the heart. This is true even in the trio’s second Schubert offering on the program: the piano trio, composed in late 1828, shortly before his death.
The somewhat fateful, pulsing theme of the second movement has been co-opted for major airplay in Stanley Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon,” “The Hunger,” “Crimson Tide,” “The Piano Teacher” and other films and is said to be based on a Swedish folk song “Se Solen Sjunker” (“See, the Sun is Sinking”). You can be certain that when this “Hollywood Phenomenon” occurs with regard to classical music, it’s clear sign that it is in possession of some major staying power and worthy of our attention in and of itself, apart from its hit-film status.
A conversation with Trio Latitude 41’s violinist, Livia Sohn:
JM: Would you tell us how you folks came to settle on the Schubert and Saint-Saens pieces?
LS: Sure, we recorded the Schubert for our debut CD recording, and (MID director) John Montanari had heard that on the radio and requested that we play that on our concert. And our next CD, we’re recording the complete Saint-Saens piano trios, so we’re working them up.
JM: And whence comes the ensemble’s unusual name?
LS: Oh, that’s the latitude of the place we all first met in Rhode Island. It also happens to be the latitude of Rome, where our cellist Luigi Piovani comes from.
JM: It seems that the piano trio is a form that is quietly becoming obsolete in contemporary music, is that an accurate impression?
LS: Now that I think about it, there is constant new music being premiered by string quartets, because it’s an established form and there are so many groups that are already entities and that get instant recognition and press, whereas a lot of piano trios as groups are part time, there aren’t as many full-time piano trios as string quartets.
JM: The transparency factor is much greater, with much clearer delineation of the individual parts than a string quartet could ever manage.
JM: And that must be more gratifying for the performer.
LS: Oh, I love it, it’s like a dream come true for me, especially with these people (cellist Luigi Piovano and pianst Bernardine Blaha). I mean, our group is a little bit ridiculous because it’s completely illogical. A lot of groups that do this do it with people who are near each other; our cellist lives in Italy, our pianist lives in Los Angeles, I’m in Palo Alto and everybody has their own schedule and their own lives. We carve out time to meet with each other and it’s so musically gratifying; it’s difficult to make it work. We all met playing at a music festival but we were never put together as a trio, but we had played with each other in different formations and, when we sat down to think about what would the perfect piano would be for each of us, it was with each other. And we let it go, because it was impossible and we kept coming back to it because we didn’t want to be in a trio with anybody else.
JM: And there are no romances going on between any of you?
LS: (laughing) Yeah, exactly, it’s really like we fell in love with each other musically! It sort of follows the same pattern as if you meet and fall in love with somebody far away and you have to go through that whole song and dance!
For program details, and to order tickets, call MID box office at 413-774-4200 or visit www.musicindeerfield.org. Tickets: $28; students, $10; under 18, $5.
An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at