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Music Teacher International, October 2008

This remarkable series (which also includes Dvořák, Haydn and Brahms), is best summed up by the narrator himself. Jeremy Siepmann writes: ‘If music is about anything, it’s about life. No other medium can so quickly lay bare the very soul of those who make music or compose it. Unlike biographies confined by limitations of text, combining verbal language with the music itself can achieve a fully rounded portrait. In this series the words of composers and their contemporaries are brought to life by distinguished actors in a narrative liberally spiced with musical illustrations. This is not just about the lives of composers; it is also an exploration of their works.’

Thus on CD 1 we have mostly complete movements of the evergreen Trout Quintet, Symphony No 1, Gretchen am Spinnrade and the Erlkönig, interspersed with stories of Schubert’s childhood, growing circle of friends and the unwelcome realities of adulthood, told in his own words and by friends. In a 150-oage accompanying booklet all music and narrative tracks are numbered, together with a historical background and chronology of Schubert’s life, placing him in his time, an overview of the major works and their significance, a graded listening plan, contemporary personalities and finally a glossary of terms.

The CDs can be simply heard or played as a CD-ROM providing viewing of all the booklet material and complete spoken text on-screen, between which there are links between chapters and to the internet.

This is an exceptional artistic and educational achievement by Jeremy Siepmann, who brings Schubert vividly to life.

Michael Wyatt
MusicWeb International, March 2005

"The excellent narration by Jeremy Siepmann and the production in general are extremely informative. Siepmann is obviously a person with a wide and thorough knowledge of the subject under review. The choice of actors portraying characters in Schubert's life, as opposed to a central storyteller, is most effective. One is constantly reminded of a typical BBC radio play. Praise indeed, but the honours must inevitably rest on the shoulders of Siepmann himself, whose insight and understanding of the composer is beyond reproach. The historical information concerning Schubert's life, his early experience as a schoolteacher and subsequent trip to the Esterhazy household in Hungary (although not to Haydn's) is well documented. It is staggering to learn that in his twenties he produced more works in 14 years than Bach or Handel did in 50!

The many musical illustrations, whilst at times somewhat short, typify Schubert's development from an early age to his untimely death at 31. With the exception of a few examples, the main musical content is taken from the excellent Naxos catalogue with fine performances and good recorded sound. The booklet included is full of relevant information not only regarding Schubert's life and music but also the events that took place around that time in Europe. Indeed every facet of Schubert's life is beautifully described in detail. It is interesting to note that whilst the whole production is very comprehensive and informative, things never become dull or boring. This particular listener's attention was held from beginning to end. For those people who love Schubert's music or for those who are experiencing him for the first time, this boxed set will not disappoint. We witness here the glorious melodies in his many lieder, the incredible depth of feeling and emotion in his piano sonatas together with his many chamber works and not least his symphonies culminating in the pinnacle of his orchestral writing, the Great C Major Symphony.Schubert lived in the shadow of Beethoven and unlike his great mentor, he seldom had his music performed professionally in public at least not in his lifetime. It is gratifying to know that this situation does not apply today. Franz Schubert has taken his place amongst the greatest composers of all time and considering his short life and his frequent bouts of depression, one can only marvel at this remarkable man.

The booklet is divided into 8 sections, including Historical background, Schubert in his time, a graded listening plan (most important) and some recommended reading. The full spoken text can be found on the CD-ROM part of the discs. An issue not to be missed!"

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