THE TREASURE HUNT: FRANZ SHUBERT'S POSTHUMOUS SONATA IN B FLAT FOR PIANO
©1983 Mark B. Anstendig
If I were to choose the most profound piece of music I know, I would choose something by Schubert. Many composers have written profound music, but Schubert takes you to the deepest, most unadorned depths of the human soul. His melodies are among the most beautiful ever conceived, but they also contain the most varied emotional content within the span of a single melody and the greatest potential for changing their emotional character by changing the accompanying harmonies. A listener can be taken through numerous different emotional experiences by a single Schubert melody.
A recorded performance that best illustrates the rich expressive variation in his melodies is Clara Haskil's recording of Schubert's Posthumous Sonata in B flat for piano.
The first melody of the first movement and the second melody of the second movement are extraordinary examples of the variety of emotional content inherent in many of Schubert's melodies and Clara Haskil's performance achieves an expressive flexibility and variety that is awesome. Each repetition of the first melody is different from the others, but not arbitrarily so, because each change in Haskil's manner reflects and underlines the subtle changes of Schubert's harmony, which results in a spontaneous-sounding, but really precisely laid out and executed flexibility of expression. In the upward-moving melody of the second movement, the expressive character changes so quickly, even abruptly and without warning, that hearing it demands the utmost of relaxed, receptive concentration on the part the listener.
This performance is one to listen to over and over again. Musicians should study it carefully as a model of purposeful interpretive flexibility without the slightest vulgarity. But its greatness is that it speaks directly to everyone in a thoroughly human way. But be warned. Schubert is expressing deep things that take the listener to the depths of the human soul and include moments expressive of the utter desolation that Schubert encountered in his own sad, difficult life. Probably because she also suffered extraordinarily, Clara Haskil is the pianist on recordings who was able to capture the widest range of expression in this music.
The recording is out of print, but available in European and Japanese imported pressings on the Phillips label. It is also monophonic, as are many of the greatest performances on records. I consider that a plus, because most classical music was written with the expectation that, when many notes play together, they will combine and produce a particular sound-flavor, not that they would be separated and spread across someone's living room. The sound should also be equalized. An equalizer is an elaborate tone-control that allows the listener to adjust the balance of frequencies anywhere in the entire frequency range, not just the highs and lows, as with tone-controls. For those readers who have equalizers, the frequencies that need reduction in this recording center around 2500-3100 Hz, 500-800 Hz, and 125-160 Hz. I suggest first playing one movement through in order to equalize the sound. That also allows time for your body to enter into the very fine flow of the music. (Papers on stereo and equalization are available to the public free of charge from The Anstendig Institute.)
The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit research and educational institute that studies the vibrational influences in our environment, particularly those of sight and sound, and how they affect sensory perception. Its papers on sound reproduction, problems of focusing in photography, psychology of hearing and seeing, and erratic vibrational influences that affect our lives are widely distributed throughout the world. All are available free of charge.