When I uploaded that short posting about Fran Wilson and Schubert’s last piano sonata the other night, I wasn’t imagining that there’d be much in the way of feedback. As I’ve said before on here, the ongoing collapse of the classical music audience is now showing itself pretty clearly online; and I’m not remotely surprised to discover now that while my recent discussion of BBC propaganda techniques has had literally thousands of readers, my clip of a weird moment in Schubert has only had a few dozen.
On the other hand, it was jolly nice that no fewer than two of those ‘few dozen’ actually got in touch once they’d read what I’d written…
First, there was a kind note from Fran Wilson herself — in the course of which she explained that she really is a ‘cross-eyed pianist’: “… yes I am genuinely cross-eyed (astigmatism) and have been all my life. And I also play the piano “.
And hard on the heels of this message was one from another of that collection of nice online people I’ve never actually met in the so-called ‘real world’. This time, the net-buddy was Emily — who claimed that she had “no idea at all” why there should be a little fragment of Schubert that some performances include and others don’t … and then came up with two perfectly sensible categories of possible explanation (“… some sort of problem with different printings or manuscripts, or something like that?”) As it happens, none of that is what is going on here; but, Emily, I like your thinking!
I’m not sure how much classical music Emily knows — or, more to the point, how much she knows about it: if I remember aright, she is one of the many folks who’ve discovered this blog by way of one of its media-criticism postings. As a result, I don’t know how much — if at all! — she’d appreciate a word-based, technical-seeming explanation… (I know: I’ve said this before about other correspondents — and it really is a consideration when replying. There’s no bad education that damages more lastingly than bad music education — which, after all, is one of the reasons we’re in such a mess nowadays…)
What I propose to do at this point, then, is to allow the music itself to provide a few clues of its own as to what this is all about.
For this I will need three video clips…
First, a quick reminder of the remarkable little passage that has been playing the game of ‘Now you hear me; now you don’t’ down all the decades through which I’ve known and loved this piece. (I think I must have been around 17 or 18 when I first heard it…)
Next, a performance by a pretty substantial pianist in which the passage either is or isn’t included… (No, I’m not going to tell you what is going to happen: this is between you, Schubert and the pianist…)
And, thirdly, a performance — again by an important musician — in which (again!) our passage finds itself either accepted or rejected…
I stress that this isn’t any kind of test — no, not even covertly: this is a wonderful piece of music, and I’m not going to degrade it by turning it into some sort of quiz question. But if anyone who has followed me this far — and has been hearing this music the first time! — would like to get in touch and tell me what they think is going on with our little fragment, I’d be delighted!
[[STOP PRESS! As I prepare to upload this posting, I see that an email has arrived from yet another reader — or, to be more accurate, from a matching pair of readers (they are husband and wife!) — with a suggestion to make about the possible origin and purpose of our strange little (9-bar) passage. It’s a suggestion that justifies a few paragraphs of discussion: give me a day or two to think about it all, and I’ll produce them…]]
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