Music-theatre group Re:Sound is a group of able singer/actors who possess yet one extra skill; they’re all instrumentalists, a talent they regularly deploy in their stage shows, whilst singing. During After Party, a play which premiered last weekend at the Oxford Lieder Festival, two french horns and a violin were regularly whipped out and played (well) in mid-song. It’s surprising to watch, and for the performers must be a strange balance of physical actions, perhaps like playing tennis and football at the same time.
After Party is a complex piece about Schubert, his social circle in Vienna and the political atmosphere of the time. Punctuating the show are partsong-plus-instruments versions of some of the most famous Schubert songs, in ingenious, audacious arrangements which seemed to my ears to have unconvered some interior contapuntal lines I’d never noticed before. The spoken material about Schubert has been equally thought-provoking. The play examines his relationships with acquaintances like the revolutionary Johann Senn (who wrote the words of the song Schwanengesang - not connected with the similarly named song-cycle) and Franz von Schober (poet of An die Musik, amongst many famous lyrics).
I was left with the impression of Schubert forced by poor living conditions and lack of employment to live out his life in public spaces like the tavern in which the play takes place (it will now authentically go on a tour of Oxford’s pubs). In a sense his astonishing song production was partly a consequence of spending all day and night in the unavoidable company of poets. This chimed with me this week when talking to some composition students from a London college about their cramped (but not cheap) housing, which they have to rent on the private market. London really must start to resolve its inequitable housing situation – comparisons with 1820s Vienna are not welcome in this respect - but in the meantime I hope those young composers get down the pub and start writing song cycles.