• Eivind Buene
  • Schubert Lounge (2018)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 0.0.1(bcl).01010percpfstr 1.0.1.1.1
  • S,2Bar
  • 1 hr

Programme Note

What did Franz Schubert’s voice sound like? Was it strong, weak, balmy, harsh? We have no exact idea, of course. We can assume that it was high-pitched, since many of his songs were written in a high register. And we know that he often sang for a circle of friends in Vienna, accompanying himself on a hammerklavier. But what if we imagine him in the singer/songwriter-posture of the seventies, with a Fender Rhodes electric piano and the voice of a pop-singer? This was the starting point for Schubert Lounge, where I invited friends to my loft in Oslo to play my own version of Schubert-songs for them, filtered through the music that I grew up with: Not classical music, but popular music.

In my childhood home there was an abundance of books. This was in accordance with a typically Norwegian idea that bildung is about literature, not about music. Yes, there was singing and playing, but there was no classical music. I didn’t get to know this music until I was sixteen, and it was overwhelming. A fantastical jungle to explore, with all the names of periods and composers and instruments, a whole new vocabulary. It was like being adopted by a new tribe, with a secret language with words like Opus, Sonate, and Fugue. This territory was refreshingly alien, something I never tired of investigating. And maybe there is a residue of that feeling, on some deep level, even after twenty years as a professional composer. There is still this kind of magic, something mystical, that I need to understand, something I can only understand through composition. So, widening the scope from composer to performer is maybe my attempt to conquer Schubert’s songs, to make them my own, to finally understand. Which, of course, is an illusion.

The baritone Halvor F. Melien was present at one of my house concerts in Oslo. He challenged me to a collaboration where our different voices could meet. Tora Augestad came into the project with yet another perspective, and the result is the new Schubert Lounge. The work gave an opportunity to work with some things that interest me most as a composer: The friction between different aesthetics, different musics, and between different systems of thought. In Schubert Lounge there are three strands of music that meet: My recontextualized versions of Schubert, performed with an amateur’s voice and a Fender Rhodes; Halvor’s interpretation of my music written for his voice, based on fragments from Schubert’s diary, and Tora’s very personal renderings of Schubert-songs.

But the diverging strands of music are not completely separate. They bleed into each other, making boundaries blurry, and it is not always obvious where Schubert ends and imagination takes over. What comes into question is the concept of work versus interpretation, a dichotomy that has been challenged over the last couple of decades. It has been theorized widely, but the praxis of art making tends to make the relations delightfully complicated, over and over again.

The question of historicity is also a complex one. Schubert Lounge deals with several layers of time: the here-and-now of the performance, Schubert’s Vienna in the 1820s and the heyday of the singer/songwriter around 1970. We tend to talk about classical music as a history of works, but it is also a history of recordings, a vast archive of documents on how music has been interpreted and played over the last hundred years. The vinyl record was the dominant distribution medium of the singer/songwriter, but also an important vessel of the classical music industry in the 20th century. The LP brought the voice of performers like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau into people’s homes (and thereby transformed the music enthusiast from an amateur practitioner to a spectator, but that’s another story).

This history is reflected in Schubert Lounge with yet another strand of music: a piano-fragment from one of Schubert’s most well known songs, conveyed from a record player. The fragment returns in ever more twisted versions, as the sound of the accompanying piano ultimately finds a singing voice of its own. And in the end, this is what Schubert Lounge is about: the singing of songs. Of course, Schubert’s songs have been reinterpreted in a wide array from Hans Zender to Josephine Foster and beyond. And Chris Newman was a pioneer in bringing the amateur voice – that of the singing composer – into new music festivals. Still, I hope the collisions and meeting points of Schubert Lounge will provide yet another perspective in this ongoing conversation.

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