Marking the birthday of Franz Schubert (31 January 1797 – 19 November 1828), Wigmore Hall today releases a seminal series of four lectures on Schubert songs by their foremost exponent, the pianist, scholar and author Graham Johnson.

Recorded at Wigmore Hall between 2021 and 2022, Johnson’s lectures span over seven hours, weaving together live demonstrations, musical performances, paintings, drawings and historical documents. Together the four lectures represent the most substantial and significant film ever devoted to the exploration of the 600 songs of Schubert, the composer’s largest body of work.

The lectures are the latest milestones in Graham Johnson’s five-decade long engagement with Schubert’s music. He played a pivotal role as an advisor and performer in Wigmore Hall’s series of 40 concerts in 2015–17 presenting the complete songs of Schubert – coinciding with the publication of his 3-volume, 3000-page Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs by Yale University Press. As a pianist he also recorded the complete songs of Schubert with some of 20th century’s finest singers over 37 CDs for Hyperion Records, one of the great achievements in the history of recording.

Wigmore Hall Director John Gilhooly says, ‘Graham’s incomparable knowledge and passion for Schubert make him the most persuasive advocate for the composer. Viewers will find watching these films a stimulating and pleasurable experience. Wigmore Hall is proud of its special relationship with Graham and we are so delighted to be part of the latest milestone in his list of staggering accomplishments.’

Born in Bulawayo present day Zimbabwe, Graham Johnson has performed with the world’s leading recitalists, and has recorded extensively for Hyperion Records. He is Senior Professor of Accompaniment at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was made an OBE in the 1994 Queen’s Birthday Honours list, created Chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Government in 2002 and made an Honorary Member of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 2010. In 2013 he was awarded the Wigmore Hall Medal, and received Honorary Doctorates from both Durham University and the New England Conservatory of Music. He was awarded the Hugo Wolf Medal in 2014 for his services to the art of song, and his three volume Schubert: The Complete Songs was also published in that year.

To watch the films:

Part 1 – Surviving the Erlking (1797 – 1815)

Part 1 explores Franz Schubert’s early life in Vienna. Focusing here on the formative influences on Schubert’s musical development, Johnson delves into Schubert’s home life, the first concerts he experienced and his school years.

Part 2 – The Mayrhofer Years (1816 – 1820)

The second episode explores the composer’s friendship with the poet Johann Baptist Mayrhofer, who instantly recognised Schubert’s musical genius, writing in his diary, ‘The fog of the present time will be lifted by listening to Schubert’s melodies.’

Part 3 – Watershed Die schöne Müllerin, Before & After (1821 – 1824)

Part 3 explores the years 1821 – 1824, one of the happier periods of Schubert’s life. The composer has the freedom to live on his own as a result of income from his first published songs. These years are shaped by his friendship with Franz von Schober and culminate in the composition of Die schöne Müllerin in 1823, the first of Schubert’s epoch-making song cycles.

Part 4 – The Winter Harvest (1825 – 1828)

The final instalment explores the last four years of the composer’s life, a period of astonishing creativity before Schubert’s death aged only 31.