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In Its 25th Year, Bard Music Festival Focuses on Schubert

By Robert Burke Warren

Every summer, the Bard Music Festival invites audiences into the world of a specific composer, presenting musical works alongside lectures about the artist’s life and times, plus panel discussions and Q & A sessions. While many past subjects – Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Shostakovich, et al – might be flummoxed by the wide-ranging, jam-packed nature of the agenda, Austrian Franz Schubert, 2014’s Silver Jubilee honoree, would find the bustling, many-platformed event right up his alley. Schubert, who died at age 31 in 1828, was quite the multi-tasker, creating an astonishing amount of music in what little time he had. He left behind 1500-plus works, including songs (lieder – over 600), symphonies, and operas, most of which he’d performed only for his friends. Much of that work, both known and unknown, will shine at Bard Music Festival’s 25th anniversary.

Chirstopher H. Gibbs photo by China Jorrin.

“The way Schubert presented himself in Vienna in the 1820s was exactly Bard programming,” says BMF artistic co-director and eminent Schubert scholar Christopher H. Gibbs. He is referring to the composer’s “Schubertiades,” informal gatherings during Schubert’s brief life, usually in a private home, held by and for a small circle of admirers and patrons.

“When he presented the one concert of his music during his lifetime in 1828,” Gibbs says, “it began with the first movement of a string quartet, then songs, then a choral piece, then a piano trio. That’s exactly what we do that no one else does.” Among many other events, BMF 2014, entitled “Schubert and His World,” recreates that historic 1828 night of music, exactly as envisioned by Schubert when, unbeknownst to him, he had but eight months to live.

All told, “Schubert and His World” features twelve concert programs over two weekends – August 8–10 and August 15–17 – complemented by pre-concert lectures, panel discussions, special events, and expert commentary.

As with every BMF, co-founder and artistic co-director (and Bard dean) Leon Botstein looks forward to providing an outing in which audiences don’t just sit passively, but actively engage as they delve into the society, politics, literature, art and music of a composer’s times.

Leon Botstein photo by Steve J. Sherman.

“One of the things that attracts our regular concert-goers,” he says, “is they get to know the artist, either in a musical connection, or from a pre-concert talk, or a panel.” As for “Schubert and His World,” Botstein promises gritty stories. “What was urban life like in Vienna in the 1820s?” he asks. “That’ll be an interesting dimension.”

Schubert’s life was, indeed, interesting; although a genius, he struggled financially most of the time, chased women but sired no children, and faced frequent rejection from publishers, all while turning out copious, revolutionary work that was performed, then shelved for decades. Perhaps because of his early demise from syphilis, combined with undaunted determination and a fervent emotionality in his compositions, he looms large in the hearts of romantics.

“He is probably the most ‘Hollywood-ized’ of the great composers, in terms of film and legend,” says Botstein. “He achieved fame only posthumously, emerging gradually, and, over the nineteenth century, was turned into somebody else.” In addition to showcasing the well-known Schubert works saved for posterity by the composer’s friends, Botstein and Gibbs have also dug deep, in the hopes of fleshing out the “real” Schubert. “We’ll be presenting a lot of music that people don’t know,” he says. 

Considering Schubert both as he was known in his lifetime and as posterity has come to understand him, Weekend 1, “The Making of a Romantic Legend” (Aug 8–10), offers an immersion in Schubert’s Vienna, contextualizing the composer’s early life and career within the contradictions of his native city, while Weekend 2, “A New Aesthetics of Music” (Aug 15–17), addresses the nature of Schubert’s originality and of his subsequent legacy and influence.

“Schubert and His World” continues Bard’s great tradition of revolutionizing and enriching the concert experience, unearthing buried treasure, and lighting up the Fisher Center and the tree-shaded grounds of Annandale-on-Hudson with music and much more.

Bard Music Festival
“Schubert and His World”
Friday, August 8 – Sunday, August 10
Friday, August 15 – Sunday, August 17
Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
Tickets $25–$75
Box Office: (845) 758-7900

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