29 Mar 2006

Franz Schubert: The Trout • The Greatest Love and The Greatest Sorrow

In this compelling documentary, Christopher Nupen has captured rare and wondrous collaborations by some of the greatest twentieth century performers as they pay tribute to an early nineteenth century musical treasure, Franz Schubert.

Recognizing the enormous talent of the relatively unknown musicians (at the time), in the first film, Nupen documented the rehearsals and an inspired performance of a young chamber ensemble as they discover the enormous musical potential of Schubert’s Trout Quintet. The ensemble comprised of Daniel Barenboim, Itzhak Perlman, Pinchas Zukerman, Jacqueline du Pré, and Zubin Mehta clearly demonstrated through their enlightened interactions and mutual respect for each other’s abilities why each is now regarded as a musical giant of their generation.

From watching their fun-loving bantering, one truly gets the sense that this chamber ensemble brought together by Barenboim is made up of the best of friends, and that this video recording represents an enormously joyous time in their lives. Audiences today are fortunate at having this glimpse at their personal and professional lives while they express such delight in putting together Schubert’s most famous piano quintet. Unbeknownst to any of the performers at the time, this film was destined to be one of the most frequently broadcast classical music performances of the twentieth century. In a lot of ways, some of the highly artistic moments represented by the performers in this documentary mirror Schubert’s own talents as a composer who possessed enormous musical maturity at such a young age when he composed the Trout, as well as a endless devotion towards his family and friends.

As the personalities of the players unfold in the first film of the recording, so does that of Schubert in the second film, The Greatest Love and the Greatest Sorrow. Although Schubert only reached the age of 31, while his life was short in years, it was abundantly rich in accomplishments with close to a thousand known works to his credit. It seems Nupen produced this film with the intent to lay bare Schubert’s life so that modern-day listeners can truly appreciate the remarkable undertakings of this prodigious musician of humble means. Rather than offering the usual historical narrative one would expect from a biographical documentary, Nupen shares with audiences Schubert’s intimate letters to his family and friends, his poetry, even a dream Schubert had written down. As the film progresses, audiences begin to understand Franz Schubert the human being, his motivations and inspirations, and on some level, get to know him for the gentle soul made transparent through his writings. Christopher Nupen has in essence revived Schubert through a well-crafted audio/visual medium.

Recommended to all musicians and music lovers, it is important to note that the music itself is a fundamental element of the two films that make up this commendable video recording. While audiences today recognize the significant value of Schubert’s intellectual output, it is equally important when discussing this film to recognize the ingenious vision of Christopher Nupen, and the talents of the performers whose conscientious interpretations honor the composer’s legacy. Bass-baritone Andreas Schmidt was featured several times throughout the film, interpreting Schubert’s songs with appropriate drama and meticulous phrasing. His rich tone seemed added a profundity to his interpretations that reflected Schubert’s musical substance.

Nathalie Hristov
Music Librarian
University of Tennessee