A Conversation With British Pianist Paul Lewis
In the following joint interview with Chicago’s Symphony Center, which presented Mr. Lewis earlier this year, he discusses his feelings toward Schubert, 92Y and the cycle approach to programming.
In a recent interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, you called Schubert “endlessly fascinating.” What distinguishes him for you?
Many things, but if I had to point to one particular aspect of Schubert, it would be the way in which he creates a sense of drama. Normally when a composer wants to convey something dramatic, it’s far more common for them to write something demonstrative which jumps off the stage at the listener—and Schubert sometimes does that too. But more often, the drama of his music is of an inward looking nature. When Schubert wants to tell you something important, he will usually lower his voice rather than raise it—he draws you into the message, rather than projects it out to you. His moments of extreme despair seem primarily to be conveyed in that way—which, for me, makes them all the more powerful.
What do you as a musician discover by exploring one composer in depth? How does it change your perspective?
That’s hard to describe, as it’s such a gradual process. Sometimes you might stumble upon a musical “solution” to something that has been eluding you via a different work by that composer. There’s one specific element of the way he writes which I’ve come to see in a different light as a result of studying some of the songs recently. Schubert often writes repeated figures, sometimes just repeated single notes, and it’s easy to see that as an accompaniment—something that shouldn’t be heard too much in the forefront.
But when you look at songs such as “Die Liebe Farbe” from Die Schöne Müllerin, or “Der Wegweiser” from Winterreise, you see that those insistent repeated notes are in fact of huge significance. There’s a sense of fate, or of not being able to escape, which of course represents a certain reality for Schubert himself after his diagnosis of syphilis in 1822-23. This has made me think again about similar passages in the solo piano music, such as the repeated notes in the first Impromptu of D. 899—every strand of Schubert’s writing has its significance, and this particular strand is, I feel, of great importance.
Read the full interview on the 92Y Blog>>