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Mature Masterpieces

The MHS Review 239 Vol.3, no. 5 • May 7, 1979

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David M. Greene


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Technically the Schubert memorial year is over. and we should be pressing on to celebrate the sesquincentennial of the births of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Anton Grigorievitch Rubinstein. But things have a tendency to lag in the recording business. so while we await the inevitable deluge of Gottschalkiana and avalanche of Melodies in F. G. and H. here is one more trickle of Schubert piano stuff. This is really a record of miscellaneous Schubert keyboard pieces. though the bulk of it is taken up with two collections commonly called Klavierstiucke.

The earlier collection dates from 1816 when Schubert was nineteen and already musically precocious and prolific. The title "funf Klavierstucke .. was not his: it came from a publisher. who brought the pieces aut in 1833. five years after the composer's death. Today the work is more commonly designated as "Piano Sonata No. 3 in E major.·· This classification is not entirely whimsical. The central adagio is neatly set off from the initial and final allegros by two scherzi. But Schubert was not in the habit of writing five-movement sonatas. and there is no way of knowing if such was his intention here. ·What is obvious is that the pieces represent quite a stride forward in Schubert's keyboard writing and stand up very well on their own. There seem to be occasional echoes of Beethoven in them. and in the first one Schubert. quotes from his song Elysium--with what meaning. heaven only knows.

The other set. the so-called Drei Klavierstucke. comes from those last musically incredible months of Schubert's life. At the µrging of Brahms. they were published in 'the late 1860' s and once again the title was a publisher's non-committal solution. since the manuscript bore none. Otto Erich Deutsch. the great Schubert scholar. thinks they represent the beginning of a third set of impromptus--a rather loose genre. possibly created by the Czechs Tomascek and Vorisek. of which Schubert's other sets (Opp. 90 and 142) are justly famous examples. Alfred Einstein. however sees them as three rondos in various '' national styles.'' specifically French. Italian. and Hungarian. Einstein, however does not think much of them. and John Reed labels them· ·uneven and unconvincing.'' On the other side. Kathleen Dale calls them "musically interesting and delightful to play." and Harry Halbreich makes no bones about terming them ''mature masterpieces.'' And I see that five years ago David M. Greene. waffling as usual. wrote that they "may be odd whittlings from a master's workshop. but they show that at this stage Schubert even doodled with care and passion.

As far as I know. the other two selections recorded here have never been officially designated as Klavierstucke. even if that's what they are. One is Schubert's reply to Anton Diabelli · s request that every composer within hollering distance send him a variation on his silly little waltz. Beethoven took him seriou􀀚ly and wrote a major composition. Schubert did a minute and a quarter's worth. The Allegretto in C minor is a piece of more substance: another late. and curiously melancholy. work. it exhibits some very curious harmonic turns: Ms. Dale thinks it ought to be classed with the Moments Musicaux.

Pianist Edmund Battersby. a Detroiter. turns thirty this year. but he has already made his mark as a participant with the Tokyo String Quartet and with such string players as Elmar Oliveira and Leslie Parnas. The Washington Post hailed him as "a pianist's pianist and a musician· s musician." and Harris Goldsmith. himself a helluva pianist. praised his "magnificent style. warmth. humor. aplomb. and precision." A product of Juilliard. where he received the prestigious Alumni Award. he made his New York solo debut on Jan. 14 of this year at Alice Tully Hall. Also. he plays good.

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