Schubert: Ländler

Schubert: Ländler

Even the great composers aren’t immune to changing fashions. Pianist Alfred Brendel’s advocacy in the mid 20th century of Beethoven’s Bagatelles helped them emerge from obscurity to become regulars in concert and on record. In a similar vein, Schubert’s Ländler will surely enjoy a long-overdue resurgence, thanks to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s beautifully programmed selection of 45 of these tiny musical miracles. “What really struck me how Schubert is essentially as deep, as tender, as fresh, as pure in these pieces as he is in his best and even longest compositions,” the French pianist tells Apple Music Classical. “There is no banality here—they are such treasures.” The Ländler was a triple-time dance popular in rural Germany—the waltz’s country sibling. Schubert composed almost 450 Ländler for solo piano over the course of his 31 years, variously titled as German Dances, Waltzes, Ecossaises (another type of triple-time dance, originally from Scotland), or, simply, Ländler. Some are substantial works of a couple of minutes, others comprise of just a few bars and barely last 30 seconds. There’s little doubt Schubert would have composed many of them for private entertainment, whether for his own delight or for others to enjoy in the comfort of their own homes. During the pandemic, it was the Ländler’s private element that attracted Aimard to them. “During COVID, we had no stage, no public life, and no need for any applause,” he says. “For me, these pieces represent a return to a form of intimacy, of artistic intimacy. That’s something I love all the time, but at that moment it really became central.” And despite their brevity, the Ländler contain some of Schubert’s most expressive and ingenious music, with its ambiguous harmonies and playful back-and-forth between between major and minor. Many of them, particularly the 12 German Dances, D. 790, inspired Brahms, Mahler, and Schumann, whose Carnaval, suggests Aimard, would not otherwise have existed. So which Ländler should listeners head for first? “It’s very hard to be selective,” laughs Aimard. “What I love is to travel, to wander from song to song, from reverie to reverie, to let this music take me by the hand and lead me off.”

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