Phillip Kawin | Phillip Kawin: Franz Schubert

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Phillip Kawin: Franz Schubert

by Phillip Kawin

Phillip Kawin performs the music of Franz Schubert
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845: I. Moderato
10:56 $0.99
2. Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845: II. Andante poco moto
13:14 $0.99
3. Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845: III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace - Trio: Un poco più lento
7:55 $0.99
4. Piano Sonata in A Minor, D. 845: IV. Rondo: Allegro vivace
5:49 $0.99
5. Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946: I. Allegro assai
13:36 $0.99
6. Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946: II. Allegretto
12:53 $0.99
7. Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946: III. Allegro
5:18 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Thoughts on Schubert:
A Conversation between Richard Wenn and Phillip Kawin

What are some of the most challenging aspects of Schubert?

One of the most challenging aspects is to manage all the contrasts and nuances while keeping the natural frame of the music, without exaggeration. Another challenge is to bind the many diverse elements existing in his music into an organic and unified entity. There is a lot going on underneath the surface, but the larger structure must remain intact.

How do you approach the issues of scale and structure in this music?

Scale implies proportion, and finding the right proportions is one of the most essential elements of structure. How much or how little we do must always be measured by what comes before and what comes after; there must be a sense of context. This applies to rhythm, dynamics, phrasing and tempo.

What differences do you find in Schubert’s music that makes it so unique in style and language - how does his music differ from other composers?

Schubert’s musical language is unique in a number of ways: The phrase structure is quite asymmetrical and often does not follow a more traditional regular 4 or 8 bar pattern, as is so often found in Mozart or Chopin. This poses a big challenge for the interpreter in terms of not breaking the structure, sustaining the flow and sense of continuity, in spite of the irregular lengths of the phrases. Let us say it is not predictable! The transitions are often connected with modulations (changing of keys) and are especially important in Schubert. They may involve changes of color, timing, and bridging the changes in character and mood between different sections or themes. Schubert is very daring in his use of harmony. He loves the subdominant, as opposed to Beethoven, whose use of harmony is more dominant oriented. Schubert often writes in remote keys, like the A flat minor B section in the Anhang from the first piece of the Drei Klavierstücke. (The Anhang, which pianists may choose to perform or not, appeared in the first edition and was later omitted by Schubert in the final edition.) This key is rarely found in Beethoven, and to my knowledge is not present in Mozart. Another essential difference in the music of Schubert is in his sense of time. There is the sense that he suspends time. There are big expanses of harmonic space that require time to unfold. To be a good Schubertian, one has to do more than just “play in time.” There are a lot of agogic accents that have to do with timing: slight delays or lingering on a particular note, rather than only playing with more volume.

Do you encounter or bring artistic images into Schubert’s music when you are playing and how would you describe this for us?

Yes absolutely, I do incorporate various images when I am playing Schubert. I have always felt that two of the principal qualities in Schubert’s music are song and dance and the images they inspire. At the very inner core of his music, there is a subtle feeling of loneliness; one feels Schubert’s longing for something and his unmistakable pain. Here is a quote that is from Schubert, “My Dream,” July 3, 1822: “With a heart filled with endless love for those who scorned me, I...wandered far away. For many and many a year I sang songs. Whenever I tried to sing of love, it turned to pain. And again, when I tried to sing of pain, it turned to love.” There is also intimacy, mystery, defiance, resolute character, storm and unrest (Sturm und Drang in German), agitation and intensity. On the other side, there is tranquility, repose, and a celestial or sublime quality that emerges.

What are the principal values that you seek to achieve in music and this music in particular?

Schubert’s melodies are vocal in nature; I try to sing and to sustain the melodic line within the phrase. I also seek to express what I feel is implicit in the music. My goal is to find the balance between the many diverse elements. This means to project the overall sense of mood, to define the character of every section or movement, and to realize the shape and direction of each phrase. In other words, to consciously be aware of the balance that exists between the macrocosmic (larger) and the microcosmic (smaller) elements.

How do the dynamic proportions differ from Beethoven? Does Schubert continue in Beethoven’s world or find his own scale of expression?

This is subjective, but I do find that the dynamics in Schubert can be interpreted less literally than they are in Beethoven. As Karl Ulrich Schnabel said when speaking about the dynamics in the Schubert B flat major sonata: “piano is a bit more than usual, due to there being so much pianissimo.” Schubert’s dynamics are generally more compressed and the crescendos are shorter than those in Beethoven. In direct contrast to Beethoven, Schubert requires more nuance and subtle tonal inflection within a narrower dynamic spectrum.

The Drei Klavierstücke are late Schubert piano works written in 1828, but published posthumously, having been edited by Brahms in 1868. They show a new maturity and strength in the style of writing, a bolder character than the earlier sets of impromptus. Do you believe these are examples of a
new development in Schubert or very much in the same direction as his late sonatas?

They are a unique set of pieces that are in a very different realm from the late sonatas. Had Schubert lived longer, perhaps they would have been the start of his new chapter. There is no impending sense of loneliness, tragedy or gloom in the Drei Klavierstücke. They have abundant lyricism, introspection, vibrant rhythm, buoyant dance character, playfulness and joyfulness. My producer Steve Epstein would refer to them as ”The Impromptus.” If they had been published as Impromptus, they would have been the third set, following the Opus 90 and Opus 142 Impromptus.

How do you view these pieces in the context of the complete canon of Schubert’s piano writing? What does this music say to you?

They are highly eclectic in their nature and construction. Apparently at the time they were composed in 1828, a secretary and biographer of Beethoven’s, Anton Schindler, called the Drei Klavierstücke a Sonata in E flat minor, because it contains elements of Sonata Form if you look at it as a whole. However, inside its construction is a tremendous diversity of character, subtle expression, color, strong rhythmic drive, drama, and intensity.

The Drei Klavierstücke are less frequently performed than the early sets of Impromptus or the late sonatas. The set as it exists is a first draft, possibly written at speed during the busy last year of Schubert’s life, with some added revisions, but not quite the full revision that Schubert made to his other works. Do you feel this in the music when you play or not?

When I learned the Drei Klavierstücke, I did find some discrepancies about which I was curious, so I consulted the Critical Notes of Paul Badura-Skoda in the Wiener Urtext Edition that were most helpful in shedding insight and resolving questions within the score.

I like the warmth and color you have found in these performances of the Sonata and the Klavierstücke. Do you try to find this warmth in the pianism or is it there in the music?
Thank you, Richard. The warmth actually comes out of the music itself, but it needs to emerge like light going through a prism. There must be colors and creative sounds emerging seamlessly from the instrument. The pianistic means of accomplishing this is a labor of love, but it is no small challenge to accomplish.

How do you approach Schubert’s music – from the heart or from the head? Is it deeply personal and reflective of the composer’s life for you or more cerebral, detached from his imprint and a reflection of his Biedermeier era world?

I look at his music through my brain, but play from the heart and soul. It is deeply personal and subjective, but one needs to be well informed and highly conversant with the language and style.

Some pianists look for a dry and limited tone range. Is this Schubert sound your preference or do you look for a particular character in each of his piano works?
I certainly do not seek a dry and limited tonal range. Sound and character must both be there. As I often say to my students, sound, timbre, voicing, and color are all primary vehicles for expression; they should also be aligned with the intended musical character.

You are one of the few heirs to a fine piano tradition that links us to the Golden Age of Pianism; your teachers link you to some of the greatest names in the pianistic pantheon. Has Schubert always been a part of your repertory?

Yes, in my college days I began my journey into the magical world of Schubert. To give you a little history, I was fortunate to have been exposed to lieder (German Art Song) by a distinguished Professor at Manhattan School of Music named Dr. Fritz Kramer. He was Austrian, and he felt that I had an affinity for Schubert. He encouraged me in my pursuit and passion by exposing me to a vast amount of Schubert lieder. Dr. Kramer wrote about me: “I might call him a specialist in Schubert. As far as I remember: many lieder by him, also piano sonatas.” I performed the Opus 42 Sonata in recital while I was an undergraduate student. It is the largest of the three sonatas in that key and was originally titled “Premier Grande Sonata.” That was my first Schubert Sonata. Regarding my links to the Golden Age of Pianism, my teacher Dora Zaslavsky Koch was a pupil of both the great German pianist Wilhelm Backhaus and of the renowned English pianist Harold Bauer, as well as a close associate of Wanda Landowska.

Did you study his music with your teachers and did they play Schubert? I ask this as during those years not that many famous pianists were presenting Schubert in recitals -- Schnabel and Serkin excepted, of course.

I studied the Opus 42 Sonata in A minor with my teachers. John Perry was a major influence, and he is an extraordinary Schubert interpreter.

The Drei Klavierstücke are works that I learned on my own and are a more recent endeavor.

Which pianists do you find interesting as Schubert interpreters? (Understood that this is not a question you feel comfortable with but in general, from a historic perspective, if there were any pianists that stood out and inspired you…)

The Schnabels -- Artur and his son Karl Ulrich (whom I was very privileged to know as my neighbor for many years), Clifford Curzon, Leon Fleisher, Claude Frank, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Maurizio Pollini, and John Perry have been inspirational figures in my artistic development.

Do you play these works in concert? Is Schubert pillar in your temple of great composers, do you perform his music often?

I have performed solo works of Schubert rather frequently in recent years and they constitute a pillar in my repertoire. One thing that is a bit unfortunate is that he did not compose a piano concerto, however there are great chamber works like the Trout quintet, which I hope to play in the future.

You spend much of your time as a pedagogue at the Manhattan School of Music developing emerging talent and have a fine reputation for this aspect of your career. As you develop yourself with each year, do you find that your role as a pedagogue/professor/teacher gives you something back that you are able to bring to your own music making? Do you approach Schubert’s music differently now, and how?

Artistic teaching involves multifaceted elements. It has required me to question things on a conscious level by using three primary elements: intuition, deduction, and analysis. This, in turn, has furthered my depth as an artist and enhanced my conscious awareness as a musician. I now approach Schubert’s music from the inside out, meaning that I try to deconstruct, and then reconstruct, so as to gain a deeper insight into the work at hand.

Phillip Kawin
1 August 2015
New York



to write a review


A Unique
An excellent recording! The recording demonstrates an acute approach to Schubert that many pianists today do not convey. The sonata is dynamic and yet intimate and supple, while the Klavierstucke is rich with spirit and luminosity. This recording contains a unique sense of Schubert of high appraisal.

Wm E. Londèa

Well done, Mr. Kawin!
I first and foremost applaud Mr. Kawin on this noteworthy presentation. Rightly recorded and produced, this disc is almost completely devoid of the soulless, mechanical sound emitted by many CDs I have listened to.

As for the performances themselves, Mr. Kawin exudes a warm and welcoming demeanor, that made this listener feel personally invited by him to share in and appreciate the impetus behind the longevity of Schubert's compositions; foretelling, perhaps, this CD reaching a generous audience.
Mr. Kawin's performances are not always easy on my untrained ear. However, on this recording, he eschews being overly ambitious or tedious and plays with a composure that harmonizes well with my personal leanings. He partners with the piano and, beginning with the first few notes, establishes an ease that allows basking in the genius that is Schubert and sustains that disposition throughout the entire disc, which enticed me to listen to the entire CD in one sitting. Consequently, the "Allegro assai" and "Allegretto" both merited an immediate second listen.

Music professionals will, of course, have their own assessments as to what Mr. Kawin has put forth but I, as a non-professional, borrow a quote from Duke Ellington who once said, "There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind." Mr. Kawin has heartily engaged me with the former.