Lecture and performance series looks at three major composers

Courtesy Photo
                                Michael Tracy

Courtesy Photo Michael Tracy

When Austrian composer Franz Schubert died in 1823 at the early age of 31, he left behind quite a legacy — over 600 secular vocal works, seven complete symphonies, sacred music, operas, incidental music and a large body of chamber and piano music.

That kind of genius intrigues island musicologist and amateur pianist Michael Tracy who will present a lecture, accompanied by live performances, on the songs of Schubert at 4 p.m. Sunday at Vashon Center for the Arts.

“The other part (about Schubert) that intrigues me,” Tracy explained in a recent interview, “is that when he died — one year after Beethoven who was 57 — nobody knew him. He was unknown and yet 12 years later, Franz Liszt, the greatest pianist, is performing Schubert’s work on stage.”

Schubert began his productive but short-lived career tutored as a soprano in the school that today is known as the Vienna Boys’ Choir. By the age of 16, he wrote his first composition that set to music a section of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s magnum opus, the play “Faust.”

“Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel) is incredibly emotional and beautiful,” Tracy said. “The music resembles the sound of a spinning wheel. Any soprano would want to sing this.”

Indeed, singing the piece on Sunday will be island soprano Emily Belshaw, who lived in Germany and speaks the language. Other singers will include Hugh Davis and Gary Koch. Pianists Christopher Overstreet and Tracy will accompany the singers.

When Schubert first wrote the song, very few composers were using poetry in their work. Schubert knew many poets in Vienna and according to Tracy was “on top of the poetry scene in Germany, which set the stage for German lyric poetry.” At age 18, Schubert wrote his well-known and beloved composition, “Ave Maria” with the text from a poem by Sir Walter Scott. Later, Schubert changed the lyrics to the prayer for Mother Mary.

Tracy’s decision to combine explanations of Schubert’s work with live performances arose out of experiences he had while living in New York City, his home for many years before moving to Vashon in 2011. He often hosted house concerts in his Manhattan loft and discovered that the small environment made a difference for the audience.

“I saw that people were moved by the performers especially if the singers talked first,” Tracy said. “I’ve been doing house concerts on the island for the past several years with violinist Gary Welch, playing Mozart to Piazzolla.”

Tracy said he chose Schubert because he has always loved his work and because Schubert’s songs make him unique as a composer.

“Almost no one had written the art song — putting poetry to music — before Schubert,” Tracy said. “Then Liszt and Schumann wrote art songs, Berlioz, Strauss, Wagner and Mahler. With 600 songs by Schubert, there are so many to discover. It is a treasure chest of incredible beauty.”

More in Arts

Organizations join forces to restore meadow

Vashon Nature Center will take up residence at Vashon Center for the Arts.

Musical trifecta showcases early, classical and chamber music

From a string quartet to the talents of a piano prodigy, audiences are sure to be dazzled.

What’s Happening April 18 – 25

A reggae god, a dance for a cause, a boogie at the bookstore, and more.

Chuck Roehm and Stephen Cline will play in concert at Vashon Center for the Arts on April 10 (Courtesy Photo).
A music double-bill celebrates island connections

Lifelong friends will perform original songs from two new albums.

Spring into April’s First Friday Art Walk

Most island galleries and art spots will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. with many featuring musical acts.

Pearl Django is back with jazzy strings and swing

The band’s extensive repertoire includes traditional jazz classics and original compositions.

Do a musical double-take at Shook Twins show

The duo write music, sing and play a range of instruments that could fill a music shop

Jazz series brings acclaimed players to town

Three-time Latin Grammy nominee Jovino Santos Neto will take the stage at Vashon Center for the Arts

A lecture on Debussy won’t be all talk

The event will also include a chance for islanders to hear the composer’s lovely music.

What’s Happening March 28 – April 4

Fairy tales, edgy puppets, cold brews and more.

Songwriters celebrated in concert at Havurah

The local group Tip the Scales will shine a spotlight on beloved fixtures in Vashon’s music community

A local artist takes the helm at Open Space

Jiji Saunders was appointed executive director of the space in late January.