“When you hear the music of Schubert, you go home enriched,” says Riccardo Muti, Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director. This season, the CSO and visiting artists are offering an in-depth look at this beloved, yet surprisingly little-known genius.
The CSO has played Schubert’s music nearly every year since its founding in 1891, but never before has it played all of Schubert’s symphonies in one season. Although both the Eighth and Ninth symphonies (the Unfinished and the Great C Major) have long been anchors of the CSO’s repertoire, the Mass in A-Flat Major and Schubert’s early symphonies are nearly unknown to Chicago audiences. The CSO played the First only once before (in 1982) and the Second has not been performed here in nearly four decades. These are works that often get passed over for symphonies that offer greater spectacle and more easily won success, but they are scores of abundant riches. “With Schubert, you have to know that you are playing for the music,” Muti says, “not for the standing ovation of the public.”
The greatest rarity of the season is Schubert’s Mass in A-Flat Major, which the CSO and Chorus are performing for the first time on Feb. 6-8. “In this mass, Schubert never becomes tragic,” Muti says, comparing it to the Florentine frescoes of the same period. “At the death of Christ, the Mother always has a light, sweet — dolce — smile. It is never terrifying — it is like the door to another world.”
Schubert’s works flow throughout the rest of the season, including two rare evenings of song: a modern, concert-hall version of the celebrated Schubertiades of the composer’s own day, when friends gathered together in Viennese homes to hear what extraordinary things Schubert had recently written.
There are also piano sonatas and works of chamber music, including the great Trout piano quintet, which is the centerpiece of Mitsuko Uchida’s CSO concerts March 13-18. “Through the symphonies and the other music of Schubert,” Muti says, “I think that the public will be able to understand one of the most beautiful and tragic personalities in the world of music.”
Phillip Huscher is the program book annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.