Today I would like to talk about listening to music. About the issues of interprets of our time and the disappearance of a recorded audience.


When we are honest, then the really important questions are not what we are going to have for dinner, what car our neighbor has or who is going to be the next soccer world champion. What really counts in our lives are our deepest emotions: love, jealousy, pain, loneliness, joy or sadness.

Poets are masters in expressing those feelings in the most honest and direct way, and it’s them who touch us most when they speak to us through the medium of music.

Schubert plays a very special role in this, because he has a balanced feeling for language and music. Or, as D. Fischer-Dieskau put it, “ hebasicallyis a poet himself: he poetizes with sound.”

That is why his songs have been the epitome of beauty for generations, and even today they are still among the most touchingmusical works and providesa very deep insight into one’s own self. 


This requires two things. First, you have to be able to open yourself to music and let yourself be moved by it. And secondly, the music must be presented by interprets who have the gift to make the music comprehensible to the audience 


In my youth, I thought that there is only one way of interpreting each work and that each musician needs to practice until he can play the piece in the exact same way.

It took a while for me to discover that various interpretations are possible. That there are many ways to feel, interpret and play a musical piece.

The most important criterion is the personality of the performing musician. His ability and experience, but above all the person he became during his life. 


But especially the last point seems to be a problem today. A problem which has been pointed out by D. Fischer-Dieskau.

“A strong personality is an essential requirement for every singer. And for this reason, the culture of singing songs could be seriously threatened: the emphasis on personality does not entirely fit into our time anymore. The entire cultural development – if you can even call that a culture – strives for leveling!”


He predicted this alarming development twenty years ago, and today, it’s clearly evident.

We are living in a period of cultural upheaval that started with television and rapidly moved toward modern media. As with any development, this results in advantages and disadvantages.

One of the downsides is that we have not yet learned how to handle the new media in a way that it would support our mind and emotional life. We are still like spoiled children discarding everything that doesn’t bling, and instead we throw ourselves at everything new without thinking.

This is reflected in our behavior, our thoughts, the way we interact with our culture, and how we interact with our artworks, both the audience and the performer. 


I probably won’t put my head too far above the parapet by saying the great time of the interprets is over. Of course, there will be wonderful musicians, serious performers and preservers of beautiful things. But there will be no more talents and personalities as there were a generation ago.

And above all, they will have an ever-smaller audience. 


Luckily, there are countless well-preserved recordings of the singers I love.

Before looking at today’sinterprets, let’s take a look at the latest generation of artists. The way they made music, born from a depth of feeling and clarity of mind that has become rare today. 


At the best of moments, they were able to do what the immortal H. Prey told his students,“Focus on touching the souls of the audience.”


That’s why we are not going to talk about music theory today. Let’s rather try to see a composition not just as notes on a piece of paper, but as a living organism bringing the musicians to life in their own unique way.

And let’s hear how these musicians interpreted Schubert’s works. 


Listen to a short excerpt from each recording and pick one that speaks to you from the very first moment. Be as subjective as possible. There is no right or wrong, only what you like and what you feel when listening matters. 


Devote yourself to this interpretation until you feel that it became a part of you. Until you are drenched in it and understand it down to the last ramifications.

That can happen during the fifthrun, the tenth or even later. Take your time, you will win more than it might seem right now. 


Because as soon as you understand an entire interpretation, you have a base to determine good and bad performances with.

And you will soon not just listen to anything anymore and realize what just glitters and what’s pure gold. 


Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau           Hermann Prey           Peter Schreier           Thomas Quasthoff 


Unfortunately, I could not find a recording of “Erlkönig” by Peter Schreier. But on YouTube you can find many other Schubert songs he recorded.

Maybe you want to leave a comment which recording you liked the most and why!