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Gerald Carpenter: UCSB’s Paul Berkowitz to Perform All-Schubert Piano Recital

UCSB piano meister Paul Berkowitz will perform an all-Franz Schubert piano recital at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, in the UCSB Music Building.

Paul Berkowit
Paul Berkowitz

Professor Berkowitz's program will include Schubert's Six Moments Musicaux (1828), D. 780, the Twelve German Dances, D. 790 (1823), the Piano Fantasy in C-Major, D. 605a, "Grazer Fantasy" (1818) and the Three Piano Pieces, D. 946 (1828).

Berkowitz is in the middle of a large-scale Schubert recording project that is likely to become as definitive a vision of the composer's piano works as we are likely to get in our generation. Certainly a coherent treatment of any genre of Schubert's compositions — especially by an artist as sensitive and intelligent as Berkowitz — will be most welcome, for there is much that is baffling about this composer. About the only thing about him that is easy to understand is his enduring popularity.

Schubert's fans form as distinct a group of music lovers as those obsessed with Italian opera. Many of those devoted to classical music — including most of the musicians I know — put Johann Sebastian Bach at the summit of composers. Yet they only aver that Bach is the greatest composer, not the only one.

Many of the Schubertians I know, on the other hand, seldom listen to anyone else: He fulfills all their requirements. They aren't so much music lovers as Schubert lovers. Still, while I have many quarrels with Bach supremacists, when I encounter an ardent Schubertian, no grounds for argument ever present themselves. The Schubertians enjoy an irreducible bond with their idol, and there is nothing to be said about it.

Schubert's music, indeed, inspires little in the way of intellectual activity. You need no educational background or wide musical experience. He is as accessible as Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Mainly, he is a songwriter, whether there are words being sung or not. Emotional simplicity is his strongest suit, and he is best appreciated in these small works, as in his songs. He puts you immediately inside the emotional landscape of each piece, and makes it impossible to do anything but let yourself be carried along. Generally, when a piece ends, we wish it would go on.

Schubert's difficulties with larger scaled works are well-documented. When a musicologist says that the symphonies of Bruckner are influenced by Schubert's symphonies, he is not complimenting either composer, but saying that the works of both are shapeless and sprawling.

It seems to me that Schubert had very little influence as a piano composer. Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt and Robert Schumann were the movers and shapers there. In the seemingly fundamental matter of thematic development, Schubert usually gets a C-. But, when one musician asked Igor Stravinsky if Schubert's rambling developments didn't put him to sleep, Stravinsky replied, "Yes, but what does it matter if, when I wake up, I am in Paradise?"

Tickets to Berkowitz's Schubert recital are $10 for general admission and $5 for all students except UCSB students, who will be admitted free.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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