Why I'm learning to bake Schubert strudel
If you've been listening to Radio 3 over the weekend, you'll now be fully immersed in the music of Franz Schubert. The station's latest complete-works survey of a major composer follows seasons on Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky. As a Radio 3 presenter, I'm part of it, too, presenting a thrice-daily Schubert Lab that aims to get behind the music: for instance, how did he manage to write 22,000 bars of music in just one year? We'll be exploding the myths that surround the radiant, miraculous music of his last couple of years – oh, and cooking a Viennese strudel of the type he almost certainly ate rather too many of, live on air. What could possibly go wrong?
It's easy to be cynical about this kind of completism. If your favourite Radio 3 programmes are the world music and jazz strands, a week of wall-to-wall Schubert will not thrill you. There is another argument against the warts-and-all approach: did he ever expect all his juvenile marginalia to be publicly venerated? And what of the musical context? Isolating a composer's work in this way can abstract their achievement from the time and place of its creation, as if chubby wee Franzi emerged a fully formed genius in 1797.
But just as nobody watches a single episode of The Killing, The Wire or Seinfeld without going on to invest in at least one box set, there is something very appealing about the completist approach. In today's easy-access world, there seems little point in having one of something, when you can readily have it all.
There's a strange alchemy at work during these immersions. Unless you're going to break world records for sleep deprivation, no one will actually hear everything Schubert wrote this week. But you are almost certain to hear a song, a symphony, a choral work you hadn't heard before. Given the tiny proportion of Schubert's music most of us know, Radio 3's Spirit of Schubert should prove more of a revelation than any of the previous complete-athons. And baking strudel while achieving musical enlightenment has to be a good thing, surely?
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