In Search of Schubert’s ‘Secret Love Life’

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MUSIC is a strange and miraculous form of communication. It can flow along in the background making a pleasant soundtrack for our activities when suddenly it somehow seizes our attention and the series of solid and hollow dots with flags becomes a profound and emotional conversation that completely absorbs us. This happened to me one day as the second movement of Franz Schubert’s famous String Quintet (D. 956) began. I heard a soul in trouble in deep conversation with its life; this conversation seemed to be taking place in a small, intimate place, a room big enough for only two voices, completely insulated from the world.

I began to research Schubert’s life, reading (in translation) the basic primary documents compiled by Otto Erich Deutsch. I was hoping to understand where such powerful but understated music came from. His circle of friends rightly regarded him as a musical genius and theorized that, when he composed, he was setting down inspirations from some heavenly source. Schubert scoffed at this and wrote in his diary (May 27, 1824): “What I produce is due to my understanding of music and to my sorrows.”

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