Schubert, Franz / Schiff, Andras : Fortepiano
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Schubert’s music has an immediate impact. No one has expressed this more forcefully than Theodor Adorno in his early essay of 1928: ‘Confronted with Schubert’s music, tears fall from our eyes before the soul is even consulted. That is how solidly and unmetaphorically it affects us.’ It would be wrong, however, to take this as a plea for sentimentality, allowing pianists to claim, as Ulrich Schreiber once put it, ‘the right to lend the score a helping hand by improving it’. To avoid this dilemma, one thing above all is helpful, in addition to pianistic skill and aesthetic sensibilities: archival research. Not least of all this involves the questions of which instruments Schubert played upon, which surroundings his works were performed in, what social groupings they were conceived for and what sound-ideals this imposed on him.
The Hungarian pianist András Schiff has long been concerned with period performance practice. At first, however, the musical results of the research into authentic sound left him unconvinced. Since then his initial qualms, sparked by the dogmatism of the original practitioners and the poor state of many historical instruments, has virtually given way to a gusto for period instruments. A change of heart was prompted above all by his experience with Mozart’s hammerklavier, which he was allowed to play in the composer’s birth-house in Salzburg – ‘at once a privilege and an unforgettable experience’. Only on this instrument, where Mozart probed the limits of the keyboard and the piano’s potential, does the revolutionary character of his music come fully to the fore.