Devotees of the piano cherish recordings of Beethoven and Schubert by Arthur Schnabel (1882-1951), whose 130th birthday anniversary was yesterday. But nearly everyone has forgotten his own compositions, which bore the influence of his close friend, Arnold Schoenberg.
Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed wrote a long essay on Schnabel the neglected composer for The Musical Times in 1989, in which he suggested, among other things, that the Austrian’s fine insights into the music of Beethoven and Schubert were only possible because he approached them as a composer, not an interpreter.
With scant mention in the music-history reference works and no advocates among his living connections (which include Leon Fleisher, who was a student), there isn’t much hope for Schnabel’s dense, challenging creations. So, in belated celebration of yesterday’s anniversary, here are a couple of smaller-scale comparisons and contrasts of Schnabel the interpreter and Schnabel the composer.
1. Here is Invitation to the Dance, by Carl Maria von Weber:
2. The opening movement from the fourth of Schnabel’s five string quartets. This one dates from 1924:
3. Bach’s Chromatic Fugue, BWV 903
4. Schnabel’s four-movement Sonata for Violin and Piano, from 1935, performed by Ursula Oppens and Paul Zukovsky: