Nigel Nettheim (© 2000)

This article first appeared in The Schubertian, No. 22, September 1998, pp. 8-9 as No. 7 in an occasional series.
The Schubertian is published by the Schubert Institute of the United Kingdom (SIUK) (link OK 27 August 2009).

In 1964 I was a graduate student in Statistics at Stanford University, California. I spent the summer in Washington DC. One day I wandered into a second-hand bookstore and chanced upon Newman Flower's book "Franz Schubert - the Man and his Circle".

I bought it and read it slowly - a few pages or a chapter each evening after work. I quickly became overwhelmingly engrossed and spent each day wondering what could possibly happen next in the story. This was the first I knew about Schubert and I was delighted to find that such a man could exist - so completely unaffected and natural in the best sense. I had thus been introduced to Schubert's personality, but not yet to his music.

I then went to a record store and chose, somewhat at random, Lotte Lehmann and Paul Ulanowsky's recording of Die Schöne Müllerin. When I returned to Stanford after the summer, I played the record in the {p.9} library's listening room while following the songs' texts. I specially remember hearing for the first time the refrain at the end of each verse of Ungeduld: when the last two words of the text ("ewig bleiben") came into view it was clear to me that the musical setting could not yet finish satisfactorily with so few syllables remaining. I was enthralled by the way in which Schubert spun out those last two words, bringing the music eventually to a fully satisfying conclusion, and illustrating in musical form the meaning of those words ("forever remain").

Above all I was delighted to find that the character of the music reflected completely the character of the man, as I had understood that from Flower's book. I later realised that Schubert always set song texts at face value, never indulging in irony or deviousness of any kind. So here at last was a completely sincere and straightforward man in a world which for some reason is rather lacking in that respect. This was accompanied by an even less common quality: a capacity for sublimity.

I completed my studies at Stanford and had a short career in statistics. In 1969 I was again in Washington and decided to take the plunge, at age 29: I abandoned my previous career and moved to Toronto to study music full-time. I had taken piano lessons in Sydney, Australia, from age three to fifteen, so music was not new to me, but I now took it in all seriousness. Although it might be hard to make sense of my "career path", I thought it could not be wrong to follow such a man as Schubert.

Now after nearly thirty years of mostly full-time music study and research I have no regrets (except that I hadn't been in a position to start this earlier). I have published a number of articles in musical journals. I am currently completing an analytical study of Schubert's earliest works from the beginning up to his first generally recognized masterpiece, Gretchen am Spinnrade. My main aim in that study is to throw some light on how Schubert acquired and developed his compositional resources as a boy.

When faced with people who may be pretentious or calculating, I have found it helpful to recall Schubert's attitude to life, quite the opposite of that. It has been a pleasure to join the SIUK, as the members seem to share my admiration not only of Schubert's musical character but also of his personal character.

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