Schubert’s music is not for everyone. It requires careful attention, a love for the detail, the ability to create and discern the most delicate nuances, an infinite emotional palette, and, above all, something which is becoming rarer and rarer in today’s world: the capability to be enchanted. The label of “eternal child” has been applied, all too often, to Mozart, becoming a trite cliché; however, to a certain point, it could be more rightly applied to Schubert. From a certain viewpoint, in fact, Schubert, as a composer, has never lost a child’s enchantment for the world: the amazement and fascination for the small things, which seem all equally uninteresting to an adult’s eyes, but which indeed encapsulate a microcosm of beauty. As G. K. Chesterton would have put it, “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore”.
This sums up much of the aesthetics of Franz Schubert, and also explains why his music is not for everyone. In order to appreciate it, and to play it well, one has to rejoice in repetition – as the children do – and to be enchanted again and again by the reappearance of a beautiful melody; and, as children do, one has to love a beautiful thing with no purpose, such as a flower or a game, or as a journey leading nowhere. Only then does Schubert’s music reveal its unique, extreme beauty; when one does not grow impatient with the journey, when one is in no rush to arrive to a goal, but is able to simply savour the journey itself.
This experience is shown in nearly all of the so-called Impromptus by Schubert, and, to a lesser extent, also in the Moments Musicaux. The first Impromptu of op. 90 is in fact built on a very limited number of compositional elements, the most important of which is certainly the initial dotted rhythm. Following the rather startling call of the opening octave, a theme is heard, at first uttered by the right hand alone, in the midst of a musical desert. This, from the one side, allows the listener to focus intensely on this thin and yet powerful melodic line; from the other, it leaves the hearer in doubt as to the piece’s key, to the character of the tune, to the meaning of this line. This meaning, in fact, is not univocal; the ambiguity is purposeful. It allows Schubert to transform the theme gradually, framing it at times with light, almost hesitant chords; at times with polyphonic counterpoints; at times with vibrating repeated notes; at times with dramatically powerful musical gestures, which transform its declamatory quality into a warlike and rather terrible march. Almost everywhere, however, the underlying concept is vocal; the clear rhythm corresponds to the precise articulation of speech, while the phrasing and the melodic style are evidently indebted to the intonation of poetry. Schubert’s mastery of the form of the Lied does not imply that he was not at ease in the larger forms, as some critics wrongly maintained; rather, it implies that his unequalled skill in coupling the most minute inflexions of speech with an extremely refined music imbues even his non-vocal works, such as these piano pieces. For example, one of the most intense themes of this Impromptu is a pleading tune, whose entire range does not exceed the claustrophobic limits of a sixth; yet, it is much more expressive and touching than other, more expansive, themes, by virtue of the entirely different meaning which Schubert can impart to a repeated note (the D), played four times in a row, but each time with a different shade. The final appearance of the major mode, after the obsessive repetition of the opening theme, has the miraculous effect of transforming the previous anguish, grief, melancholy and sorrow into a touching moment of genuine hope.
The second Impromptu (op. 90 no. 2) is equally surprising, though in a completely different fashion. Here, there are basically two main elements around which Schubert builds his composition: on the one hand, the scales; on the other, one of his favourite rhythmic elements, i.e. a ternary structure with a marked accent on the second beat. Scales are not the most interesting of all musical elements; practising the scales is one of the indispensable parts of a performer’s training, but by far not the most exciting. However, Schubert manages to use an uninterrupted string of scales, played by the pianist’s right hand, in order to build a sequence of increasingly tense climaxes, which involve the listener in a whirlwind of dazzling colours. The smoothness of these seamless musical elements is countered by the awkward and slightly odd rhythm of the left hand, with its seemingly misplaced accents. These become the true protagonists of the second section, in B minor (which should in fact be C flat minor), dominated by the almost brutal, and certainly rather savage, gestures and accents played by both hands. Here Schubert demonstrates that his refinement did not prevent him from enjoying some roughness and a calculated amount of “barbarisms”.
These are entirely missing in op. 90 no. 3, where we find, once more, a markedly vocal tune: here too the melody is initially made of four repeated notes (so it is hardly a melody at all); yet, it sounds like a melody, and as a very touching one too. The hypnotic accompaniment in sextuplets has something of the circular motion of some of Schubert’s most iconic musical images, i.e. the eternal motion of the wheel (be it Gretchen’s spinning wheel, or that of the watermill or of the hurdy-gurdy). Schubert’s genius in creating variety through minimal changes is at its greatest in this piece.
The following Impromptu, op. 90 no. 4, is built on an evolution of the ternary rhythm with the “odd” accent we have encountered in no. 2. Here, it is as if the second beat of the first measure would be unnaturally enlarged and inflated, transforming one measure into two; this enormous musical tension, achieved by the slightest of the means, allows Schubert to repeat identically the opening motif without causing stasis or boredom. The accent on the second beat later becomes the protagonist of the beautiful ascending line, sung by the upper voice of the left hand (thus in a relatively low register, adorned by the garlands of arpeggios in the right hand); here too an almost insignificant motifs is paradoxically ennobled by its repetition, and builds up a magnificent climax which is further enhanced by its repetition. The central section of this Impromptu is once more something akin to a Lied; here again the opening “tune” starts with eight notes, which are however made of just two pitches, differing from each other by a mere semitone. And yet this non-melody is powerfully emotional and intensely touching; all the more so, when it eventually rises and acquires momentum, before transforming itself into its major-mode version, in a moment of pure musical magic. The piece finishes with a flourish, and concludes triumphally the Impromptus op. 90.
A similar variety of moods and styles, though even more condensed, is found in the Moments musicaux op. 94, six short pieces divided into two sets of three. The first, in the deceivingly simple key of C major, hides its complexity which is articulated on the rhythmical plane, where simple and compound subdivisions are artfully merged. This complexity should however be non-apparent in turn, as it aims simply at creating a rhythmical smoothness and flow, eschewing the too rigid hierarchical structures of traditional rhythmic organization. The structure of this first piece reminds us of the sets of dances written by Schubert; sequences of eight-bar repeated phrases are chained to each other, developing previously-heard motifs and continuously adding new ideas. A reprise of the initial section closes the piece creating a circular structure. The second piece, Andantino in A-flat major, is enchanted and contemplative. Its first bars are melodically hesitant, and hardly move from the tonal centre; thus, the later melodic climaxes are put into extraordinary relief by contrast. A section in F-sharp minor offers us one of the unforgettable melodies flowing from Schubert’s pen; the rhetorical figure of the “sighs” is abundantly used, though always in a restrained and intimate fashion. After a reprise of the initial section, a second part in F-sharp minor follows; in this case, the tones are more pronounced and explicit, even if only for a few bars; later, the music slowly returns to its contemplative style, and the piece closes after a further reprise of the opening measures. The third piece is the best-known of the set; in F minor, it is reminiscent of Hungarian folk-music, with its abundant use of embellishments and its purposeful modal ambiguity; it is also a humorous piece, with delicate irony and a gentle atmosphere.
The second set of three opens with No. 4, whose nearly-uninterrupted flow of semiquavers is almost suggestive of an Etude; in spite of this, however, Schubert never falls into monotony, and, by inserting subtle harmonic and melodic variants here and there, manages to create waves of sound and tensions, making this piece one of the most enthralling of the set. At its heart, a section in D flat major in syncopated rhythm provides an oasis of peace, before resuming the initial movement. The fifth piece opens abruptly with a percussive gesture, in the dactylic rhythm, which is promptly echoed by its own shadow, in piano. This rhythmic gesture remains predominant, even though it is followed, later, by a smoother movement of quaver; however, the continuous accents on the beat give the piece an almost aggressive quality, especially in comparison with its brethren. The initial rhythm is shortly resumed and quickly returns to dominance. Finally, No. 6 is yet again a moment of peace and quiet, with its delicate key of A-flat major and its beautiful melody which starts with short motifs and then expands in range and duration. With the exception of a few measures in fortissimo and in E major, the piece almost never loses its singing quality; also the passages where the dynamics are more pronounced always maintain their lyrical style.
Throughout the two sets of pieces, Schubert has offered us infinite occasions for enchantment; this CD, and the music it contains, are worth repeated hearings, so as to reveal, to the careful listener, their treasure of beauty.
Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio
Ingrid Carbone: Awarded at the Worldwide Competition IBLA Grand Prize in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the New York IBLA Foundation considered her “among outstanding professionals who deserve the attention of the international public at large”, judging her “in reference to a standard of excellence at all times”. In addition, in 2016 the New York IBLA Foundation awarded her the Scarlatti Special Mention, in 2017 the Piano Special Mention. In 2015 she also won the First Prize at the International Music Competition “Erik Satie” in Lecce (Italy), and the Second Prize at the International Piano Competition “Città di Rocchetta” (Italy). In November 2018, she relased the CD “Les Harmonies de l’Esprit” (Da Vinci Classics) with four compositions by Franz Liszt: Après une lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata, Liebestraum n. 3, Consolations (six pensée poétiques) and Légende No. 2 (St. François de Paule marchant sur les flots). Among them, the recording of all the six Consolations together and of the Légende No. 2 is very rare, as well as very rare are the occasion to listen them during a recital. The CD has been broadcasted by Radio Popolare, Radio Rai 3, Radio Classica, Radio Svizzera Italiana and received a critical unanimous consent. In 2017 the International Federation of Professional and Business Women – FIDAPA – Italy (Rende) also awarded her the biennial prize “Donna del Sud” for her artistic value. Because of this prize, Donata Marrazzo (journalist for the Italian newspaper Sole24Ore) published the “portrait” on CalabriaCult: Schubert, Liszt and Mathematics: a portrait of an Aristotelian piano soloist. In addition, the quarterly CALABRIAnelMONDO dedicated a four-page service on the third issue of 2017 entitled “Ingrid Carbone: a Calabrian pianist, an artist of rare ability”. In 2018 she was awarded the XXI edition of the Prize “La città del sole” (section Art) by the Rotary International Association “La città del sole”. In the same year, she appeared in the movie-documentary “Italian genius under the stars”, which has been presented at Venice Film Festival: the soundtrack uses her interpretations of some Liszt compositions. Mrs Carbone has performed in Austria, China, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Poland, Spain, Slovenia as soloist, with orchestra and chamber music. In Spring 2019 she went to China invited to play, give masterclasses and lectures to piano teachers. She has been invited to be a jury member of international piano competitions. Mrs Carbone began her musical education in Italy, at the Conservatory of Music of Cosenza, her home town, where she studied with Maria Laura Macario and Flavio Meniconi, and achieved her piano Diploma at the age of nineteen with Francesco Monopoli. There she studied composition, too. She attended several Master Classes in Italy and abroad in prestigious academies: she has been admitted (being the only pianist from Italy) to the 25th edition of Tel-Hai International Piano Master Classes in Israel, where she attended two master classes with Aquiles delle Vigne and Andrzej Pikul, and individual lessons with Emanuel Krasovsky and Ronan O’Hora; she attended Master Classes at the Internationale Sommerakademie – Universität Mozarteum in Salzburg with Aquiles delle Vigne, with Lazar Berman and Aquiles delle Vigne in Florence at the Scuola di Musica e Arte “Il Trillo”, with Eduardo Ogando in Rome, with Hector Pell at the Accademia Musicale Curci (where she received the Diploma of Honour after an International Biennial Piano Master Course), with Sergio Cafaro at the Accademia Musicale Pescarese and with Cristiano Burato. Eclectic personality, she graduated summa cum laude in Mathematics at the University of Calabria (Italy) at age 21. She moved to the University of Bari (Italy) when she became Assistant Professor in Mathematics at age 27. She is the author of articles, published by international journals, and was invited to give talks and conferences in Europe and at the Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences in Toronto (Canada). Currently, she is Assistant Professor at the University of Calabria, where she teaches mathematics and where she also was the President of the Scientific Library for some years.
Franz Schubert: (b Vienna, 31 Jan 1797; d Vienna, 19 Nov 1828). Austrian composer. The only canonic Viennese composer native to Vienna, he made seminal contributions in the areas of orchestral music, chamber music, piano music and, most especially, the German lied. The richness and subtlety of his melodic and harmonic language, the originality of his accompaniments, his elevation of marginal genres and the enigmatic nature of his uneventful life have invited a wide range of readings of both man and music that remain among the most hotly debated in musical circles.