When it comes to songs, one need not have any qualm in describing Franz Schubert as the perfect “prolific composer.” More than 600 songs –art songs (or Lieder) with piano accompaniment, to be precise – flowed from his immensely productive quill. In fact, it is a miracle that basically defies rational argument that the quality of the pieces throughout this well-nigh unbelievable volume of work is almost consistently of the highest level. Schubert’s magnificent achievement in the field of art song has often been praised and acknowledged (and not only by musicologists), and the recordings of his songs and song cycles are legion.
This makes it all the more astonishing to discover that, to date, arrangements by other composers of these songs are grossly under-represented, both on the concert platform and in the recording studio, with but a few above-average recordings of these orchestrations in existence. Does that perhaps allow us to conclude that these versions cannot hold their own against the high level of the original? Let’s take a good look at the “arrangers”: these include composers of the calibre of Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms, Benjamin Britten, Hector Berlioz, and later on, Max Reger and Anton Webern. Let’s face it, none of them belong in the “Kleinmeister” (= lesser composer) category: and every single one was an excellent orchestrator. The rather indifferent interest in the orchestrations is probably due to the fact that an arrangement on the whole is not valued as highly as an original composition.