Today, we look for the real Franz Schubert. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
On Tuesday, I read a New
York Times review of a Symposium on Schubert The
Man: Myth vs. Reality. Now, two days later, I've
met a very different Schubert. I've just heard the
German lieder singer, Michael Schopper, sing the
The New York Symposium was a post-modern dissection
of Schubert. It ended with a two-hour analysis of
Schubert's sexual preferences. Was he gay or
straight? One participant found a homosexual agenda
in his Unfinished Symphony. Another plumbed the
profundity of his heroic suffering and isolation.
Now I've met Schubert himself and all that stuff
has washed away. For two hours Schubert has added
his huge musical dimension to the works of six
German Romantic poets. For two hours he's told us
what we really need to know.
The poems dealt with themes of unrequited love and
human pain. That's what German Romantic poets liked
to talk about, but Schubert has gone in a different
direction. Something else entirely rose out of the
music and touched me tonight.
This was the age when great iron machines rose up
over Europe. It was an age in which we rebuilt
nature. That's what the Romantic mind was all
about. The Romantics said that nature rises within
us. For the Romantic poet, and for Schubert, nature
was expanded. Waterfalls were higher, darkness more
terrifying, light brighter, thunder louder. Forests
were deeper and more mysterious in our minds than
in the real world.
Tonight I met nature, far larger than life.
Schubert created a world of murm'ring brooks and
moaning winds. I could smell the forest humus. I
could feel leaves crunch under my feet.
Science and technology responded to the Romantics
with the grandest creative upwelling the world has
ever seen. Already the Romantic vision of nature
had started to include locomotives and the boiling
smoke of collieries. Already that creative vision
had given us both Frankenstein and Goethe's Faust.
Up on the stage, singer, poet, and Schubert all
tell us that the wild forces of nature, created
within us, have the power to set us free. Listen to
Schubert answers his dissectors with
powerful force. Look inside your own minds, he says.
Look upon your own nature. For that's where you'll
find the truth. That is where you shall recreate the
. . . Stilled by the breath of the spirit.
We feel the creative breath
Pervade our souls.
The rushing of the wind, God's own wings,
Deep in the dark night of the forest;
Free from all restraints
The power of thought soars; . . .
I'm John Lienhard at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
Rothstein, E., Was Schubert Gay? If He Was, So What?.
New York Times, THE LIVING ARTS,
Tuesday, February 4, 1992, pg. B3.
Rothstein, E., And If You Play 'Bolero' Backward .
. . The New York Times, Sunday Feb.
16, 1992, pg. H25.
The performance took place series at the Shepherd
School of Music, Rice University, on Thursday,
February 6, 1992. (Michael Shopper, bass-baritone
and Brian Connelly, piano.) The text I've quoted is
from Waldesnacht by Freidrich von Schlegel.
It is one of Drei Lieder aus Letzter Zeit
which preceded the Schwanengesang cycle.
The Engines of Our Ingenuity is
Copyright © 1988-1997 by John H.
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