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Piano Trio by American John Harbison

John Harbison, composer

John Harbison, composer

Eric Weimer, piano; Heather Wittels, violin; Roger Chase, viola; and Christopher Ferrer, cello, join Kerry Frumkin for Live from WFMT Monday at 8:00 PM.


Imagine Schubert caught in a dreamscape. That’s the affect of this intriguing work, November 19, 1828, by American composer John Harbison. Taking his title from Schubert’s death date, Harbison seizes upon the genius and inspiration of the earlier composer to sculpt this four movement fantasy. Of this piece, Harbison writes:

The “medium” for this tombeau for Schubert is grateful for the generosity of Jim and Marina Harrison, at whose home near Genova the piece was realized. Their library contained a book by Alfred Mann, Theory and Practice, in which an account of Schubert’s lesson with Sechter, and the lesson itself, appear. The piece asserts Schubert’s relevance to our present rather than any nostalgia for the past.

I. Introduction: Schubert crosses into the next world
II. Suite: Schubert finds himself in a hall of mirrors
1. Theme
2. Écossaise
3. Moment Musicale
4. Impromptu
5. Valse
III. Rondo: Schubert recalls a rondo fragment from 1816
IV. Fugue: Schubert continues the fugue subject (S-C-H-U-B-E-R-T) that Sechter assaigned him

I. The trumpets of death are heard three times. Schubert begins his journey haunted by sounds which are not his music, but pertain to his music in disturbing ways.

II. In the hall of mirrors music sounds in a manner previously unknown to Schubert—everything is played back immediately upside down.

III. Emblematic of a storehouse of ideas which are still to be explored, perhaps even in future times, the short fragment which begins this Rondo is the only one in this piece composed by Schubert in his first life.

IV. Shortly before his death, Schubert went to the theorist Sechter to work on a very specific problem pertaining to the tonal answer of the fugue subject, important to Schubert in the composition of his masses. Sechter, well aware that he was teaching the most extraordinary student who ever came for a lesson, concluded by assigning Schubert a fugue subject on his own name. Schubert was unable to undertake the task; he died about a week later, on November 19, 1828.

Click for a complete listing of the evening’s program.


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