The third of five Schubert song recitals in St John's features the premiere of a new dramatic response to Schubert’s Schwanengesang by Iain Burnside.

Based on the poetry of three great Romantic poets (Heinrich Heine, Ludwig Rellstab and Johann Gabriel Seidl), and written in the final months of his life, the aptly named Schwanengesang (Swansong) is one of Schubert’s finest vocal collections: an exquisite exploration of young love, yearning and loss. The songs were assembled after Schubert’s death by his friend Tobias Haslinger, a figure who appears in this new dramatic presentation of the work, devised by Iain Burnside. The great British baritone Roderick Williams is accompanied by Burnside himself, while actors perform a series of playful dramatic readings in a range of voices that sheds fresh light on the music and its creator.

Roderick Williams is a star of opera houses, concert halls and festivals worldwide. His repertoire ranges from baroque to contemporary music, including world premieres of works by Sally Beamish, Robert Saxton and other leading composers, while his own award-winning compositions have received premieres at the Barbican and Wigmore Hall and he won Best Choral Composition at the British Composer Awards in 2016. In 2015 he embarked on his ‘Schubert project’: a three-year exploration of the song cycles, and his recording of Schubert Lieder, with pianist Iain Burnside, was released last year to widespread acclaim. He was awarded an OBE in 2017.

Pianist, playwright, broadcaster and International Visiting Artist at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Iain Burnside has worked with many of the world’s leading singers, performing and recording an eclectic repertoire from Debussy to Schoenberg. He has written and devised a number of highly individual theatre pieces for Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and his latest play, Why Does the Queen Die?, received its premiere at the Oxford Lieder Festival in 2014.

'Schwanengesang (Swansong) is revered as Schubert’s farewell to song. Written at the end of his short life, the 14 songs complete the composer’s peerless trio of song cycles, yet there is no evidence that Schubert intended them to be performed together at all. Instead, the idea was the brainwave of his Viennese publisher, Tobias Haslinger.

In Swansong we present these 14 songs, for voice and piano, in their traditional order. In between each song we intersperse monologues from six different characters. Three are Schubert’s contemporaries: his friend Franz von Schober, his laundry girl, Liesl, and the canny publisher himself, Tobias Haslinger. Three are from later generations: the composers Johannes Brahms and Ivor Gurney, and Emily, an American graduate student visiting Vienna. Each casts fresh light, from different angles, on this collection of masterly songs, and on the genius who created them, months before his death.'

Ian Burnside

‘Williams is an unfailingly intelligent singer and is matched every step of the way by Burnside’ Gramophone
‘Williams … seems well on the way to joining that select company of fine contemporary British Schubertians’ Backtrack