Essential Schubert: Your Pre-Concert Playlist

Essential Schubert: Your Pre-Concert Playlist

This Saturday, the Houston Symphony kicks off its 2020–21 Classical Season with a livestream performance of Schubert’s Octet in F Major.

Presenting concerts in the time of social distancing comes with many obstacles, but it also opens up new and exciting opportunities, including the chance to spotlight incredible music scored for smaller ensembles. Brimming with the effortless melodic charm that is Schubert’s hallmark, Octet in F Major is just such a piece. Saturday’s performance, which highlights the artistry of eight Houston Symphony principal musicians, promises to be an unforgettable start to the Classical Season.

While Schubert’s compositional career was tragically short-lived, his imprint is nothing short of astounding. In a lifetime lasting just three decades, he wrote over 1,000 works, transformed the scope of the German art song genre, and composed in a passionate, forward-looking style that helped pave the way for music’s Romantic era.

Before you hear the F Major Octet on Saturday, make it a Schubert week by listening to our handpicked playlist of five essential Schubert masterpieces.

Schubert By the Numbers

  • Year of birth: 1797
  • Age at which first symphony was composed: 16
  • Height: 5’1″ (his diminutive stature earned him the nickname “Schwammerl,” or “little mushroom”)
  • Number of songs composed: 600+
  • Total number of pieces composed: 1,000+
  • Age at time of death: 31

1. Ave Maria
This poignant audience favorite has transcended the world of classical music, having been performed by Perry Como, Idina Menzel, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand, Chris Cornell, and many more.

2. “Unfinished” Symphony
No one knows why Schubert abandoned his B minor Symphony after completing two movements, but two movements were all that were needed to make this haunting masterpiece a towering and beloved part of the classical canon.

3. “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”)
Written when Schubert was only 17, this song’s bold innovations marked a watershed moment in music history that transformed how composers approached songwriting. With text by Goethe, Schubert captures all the dramatic intensity and psychological nuance of the subject matter, using the piano accompaniment to convey the incessant motion of a spinning wheel.

4. Der Erlkönig
Schubert again turned to Goethe’s text for this eerily atmospheric song, which tells of a father and son who are pursued by a malevolent supernatural being.

5. Piano Quintet in A Major (“Trout” Quintet)
One of the most beloved pieces ever written, the sunny “Trout” Quintet shows why Schubert was a chamber music master.

Watch live! Join the Houston Symphony for the Live from Jones Hall livestream concert on Saturday, September 19, at 8 p.m. central. Tickets are $20.

—Katy Judd

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