Schubert, the pure emotion of an ephemeral artist

“The feeling that posterity attaches to his name is the infinite nostalgia for a lost paradise, all of purity, naturalness and innocence. wrote the musicologist Alfred Einstein in his Schubert (1). If the scope of the composer’s work is surprising – he died at only 31 years old with 998 works in the catalog compiled by Otto Erich Deutsch! –, the emotional state in which it plunges you amazes even more. From sonatas to lieder, from impromptu to trios or symphonies, Franz Schubert touches us in an irreducible and singular way.

“In his first quartets, when he was still an adolescent, one tastes a spontaneous and naive happiness that is suddenly shattered by incredible flashes. And one wonders how they can come from such a young artist. marvels François Kieffer, cellist of the Modigliani Quartet. Words that echo those of conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt: “With Schubert, however, he floats, from his first symphony (he was 16, Editor’s note), a real sadness, like the smell of death. His distress overwhelms me, because it is human and reaches each listener without dwelling on oneself.» (2)

The Modigliani have just recorded the complete 15 quartets, an intense crossing from valleys to streams, from mountains to clearings, summarizes François Kieffer. This set, destined to become a classic in our nightclubs, explores landscapes with increasingly tormented skies and increasingly steep paths. “This immersion was an initiatory experienceassures Laurent Marfaing, the violist of the quartet. It brought us closer to Schubert the man and to Schubert the creative genius. Unlike Beethoven, he wrote neither for patrons nor for glorious performers, but for himself, his own pleasure and his own necessity. »

Deciphering the notes and the silences, dissecting the surprising harmonies and caressing the infinitely expressive melodies, singing the refrains borrowed from popular music and making the carefree passages dance… All this was accompanied by research on the composer and the aesthetics of his time. “The music of the past prompts us to reflect on the public and the halls of the timeasks François Kieffer. The intimacy of the salons where one met with friends in the Vienne of the 1800s encourages the quest for very fine sonorities, the silkiness of the strings, with delicate nuances. »

But also, when we reach the quartets of maturity like the poignant The Maiden and Death (the 14thand) and, even more, the staggering 15and and ultimate, to dig the shadows and open gaping abysses: “The cello sings in a low voice, whispers in the ear of the listener and, suddenly, a surge of violence and despair pushes it to the lowest of its range, to the string of do. » The viola is not left out to translate these sublime tumults.

“At the beginning of the quartet Rosamund (13and), it joins the cello in heartbeats on which the violin lays its song. As if pain were throbbing behind the veil of serenity,” analyzes Laurent Marfaing. The violist insists just as much on the “extraordinary harmonic sinuosities” which install a fragile, inimitable and so moving climate.

“The recording of this integral and the concert tours that extend it will undeniably mark a stage in the history of our quartet.assures François Kieffer. At our beginnings, like any young formation, we wanted to land very quickly on our desks The Maiden and Death. Obviously, we play it a lot differently today…” A reflection on time and maturation that makes you dizzy when you think of Schubert’s meteoric passage over our earth: “How far would his genius have gone if he hadn’t died so quickly?” And how to imaginecontinues Laurent Marfaing, that, during his lifetime, he heard almost none of his works in concert? »

From the first scores intended for the family circle to the last pages burning with the fever of those who knew they were doomed, the music wanders and dawdles, gets carried away and panics. “With a heart filled with infinite love for those who despised me, I (…) traveled very far. For many, many years, I’ve sung songs. Every time I tried to sing about love, it turned into pain. And conversely, when I tried to sing about suffering, it became love,” confided Schubert in My dream in 1822.


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