Death and the Maiden
Possibly the best string quartet playing I have ever heard, the Alban Berg Quartet’s performance of Death and the Maiden, in my opinion, exemplifies the apex of human achievement, a glorious work brought to life not just by four musicians, but by four musicians committed to working as one to present Schubert’s masterpiece. I hardly know what to write, or how I could possibly put into words, the wondrous amazement I feel that something so beautiful could ever occur. That said, I will just give a little perspective that history offers regarding Schubert, Matthias Claudius, and the Alban Berg Quartet. Der Tod und das Madchen, a poem by Matthias Claudius, had previously been set as a “lied” by Schubert in 1817 and reflects his conflict feelings regarding loving life and wishing for a peace he felt he would only find in death. The struggle resulted from his failing health, difficult personal relationships, and the successes and failures that accompany the career of almost every artist. The poem, some wonderful articles, and the performance itself follow.
“Oh! leave me! Prithee, leave me! thou grisly man of bone!
For life is sweet, is pleasant.
Go! leave me now alone!
Go! leave me now alone!”
“Give me thy hand, oh! maiden fair to see,
For I’m a friend, hath ne’er distress’d thee.
Take courage now, and very soon
Within mine arms shalt softly rest thee!”
Matthias Claudius (Further reading in link below).
Franz Schubert String Quartet Op. 14, “Death and the Maiden” (Further reading in link below).
The Alban Berg Quartet (Further reading, and excellent article on their history and achievements, unique artistic goals, and commitment to chamber music and pure art above commercialism. Published in the NY Times on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the group.)