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THREE PIANOS By Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy Directed by Rachel Chavkin

THE TOOLKIT Welcome to Three Pianos! In this wild, witty and wintry musical journey, three guys (and three pianos) guide you through Franz Schubert’s masterful song cycle, Winterreise. Hilarity, heartbreak and some unfortunate butchery of the German language ensue. Contained in this Three Pianos Toolkit is everything you need to expand your experience at the A.R.T.

Winterreise 2 Schubert Who? 3 Schubert’s Vienna 5 Hopeless Romantics 6 With a Little Help from His Friends


Three Guys, Three Pianos 11 Art Parties: How Schubertiades Changed the World


Study Questions & Sources 14


It was in his last year of life that Schubert composed Winterreise (which

translates to “Winter Journey”), a 24 song cycle that adapted Wilhelm Müller’s poetry into songs. Winterreise is sung from a lonely man’s perceptive as he wanders the bleak winter landscape, mourning his freshly broken heart. Schubert presented the songs first to his incredibly supportive group of friends gathered in a living room where he often presented his songs in the form of Schubertiades. They were taken aback by the sobering quality of the songs, yet immediately respected their mastery of emotion and thought. The composer’s failing health also influenced the somber, bleak tone. His friend Schober said after Schubert’s death: “He had been long and seriously ill, had gone through disheartening experiences, and life had for him shed its rosy color; winter had come for him. The poet’s irony, rooted in despair, appealed to him; he expressed it in cutting tones. I was painfully moved.” Schubert’s ability to paint musical pictures which complement and expose the text of a poem, as well as to show dramatic action, remain some of his most lasting contributions to all of music. « 2



Franz Peter Schubert was born January 31, 1797 in Vienna, Austria to

Franz Theador Florian Schubert and Maria Elisabeth Katherina Vietz. Born into a family who played music as a pastime, his older brother taught him the piano and his father taught him violin. His family encouraged Franz’s musical talent by sending him to what is now known as the Vienna Boys Choir. Although to the family it was understood that Schubert would eventually be a boys’ schoolmaster like his father, in was in this early music education that Schubert developed the backbone of his musical and intellectual life. Schubert is considered an early Romantic composer. All his contemporaries were exploring a subjective, emotional approach to their music, yet Schubert’s mastery set him apart from the other composers of his day. He accomplished incredible musical breakthroughs everyone else composing at the time only attempted. Romantic composers sought to break away from the formalized music style perfected by Mozart. Romantic compositions became about inspiration, rather than fulfillment of the rigid, structural rules of Classical music. Schubert masterfully experimented with different metaphors, interweaving physical and emotional landscapes through haunting melodies, abrupt key changes and quick changes of focus. Schubert’s ability to immediately change scale is something modern composers are still obsessed with. 3

His Symphony in B Minor (Unfinished) “broke new ground both structurally and expressively, ushering a new world of romantic subjectivity to symphonic writing,” according to historian Mark Ringer. The “Wanderer” Fantasy, Op. 15 for piano is a virtuoso piece in which all four musical passages are linked in a single theme – a musical concept called “Romantic unity” that his contemporaries struggled to replicate. Schubert wrote operas, symphonies, and sonatas, but perhaps his most significant legacy is his appropriation of the lied, or art song. Schubert added a level of pathos and artistic intricacy not yet experienced in this form: a formerly simple, diversionary three to five minutes of poetry set to music. He set into motion the legitimacy of the “song” as an art form. In 1823, Schubert contracted syphilis at age 25, slowing down the fame and momentum he was beginning to experience. Schubert remained exceptionally prolific in this later period of his life, though his mood and music took a darker, more sobering tone. Schubert’s vast body of compositions, his foresight and experimentation with the genre, and his genius were not fully recognized until after his untimely death at age 31. Some now say that if Schubert had lived longer, his legacy would have surpassed most composers of his time, including Beethoven. «

Romanticism: An artistic, philosophical, and intellectual movement that valued imagination, individualism and powerful emotions as key to creative expression. Realism could be seen as the opposite of Romanticism. Lied: A German song written for voice and piano; lieder often incorporated highbrow literature or poetry in its lyrical content. Schubertiade: A private gathering of Schubert and his closest friends-- writers, artists, noblemen--where they shared their most recent artistic work (and lots of wine).




Schubert’s Vienna was a turbulent place. Austria entered

the war against Napoleon’s invasion on several occasions and in July of 1809 lost Vienna to Napoleon’s occupation. Vienna remained in French control until Napoleon lost his entire empire in the battle of Waterloo in 1815. With invaders gone, all of Austria came under the rule of Emperor Franz I, who appointed State Chancellor Klemens Wenzel von Metternich. Justifiably rattled by the French Revolution, Emperor Franz I distrusted any whispers of political subversity or rebellion. He was suspicious of all his subjects and created a controlled police state with a network of spies reporting to him. No one was safe or out of reach from this complex system of agents. Laws were in place to limit public gatherings to 10 people in order to dissuade any political or radical rumblings. Franz I also had an extensive association of censors looking out for even a hint of written or expressed uprising. This is why Schubert held private gatherings to share his music. In a different way, the people were also responding to the tyrannical governments of the past century. After the bloodshed and fear of the French Revolution and the aggressive, totalitarian reigns of Napoleon and Emperor Franz I, citizens realized they could no longer trust governments ruled by tyrants. In conjunction with the philosophical and artistic rise of the spirit of Romanticism, the notion of the individual began to take on real implications. Whole cultures emerged championing the power of the individual. «


Romantics Hopeless


was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that valued freedom and personal expression above all else. The emergence of Romanticism came as a reaction to the Age of Enlightenment, in which artists, scientists, philosophers, and politicians believed that reason and rational thought were the means to advance humankind. Enlightenment thinkers sought to test, categorize and formalize everything around them—from political ideas, to plant life, to music. From this, the notion of “mainstream” society permeated Europe, with strictly defined social and political norms becoming…well, the norm. There were those who refused to accept the aristocratic decorum of Enlightenment society; thus, Romantic revolutionaries produced new art, new philosophies, even new governments (in the case of the French Revolution). 6

Self-styled “Romantics” celebrated their own individualism and the unfettered expression of emotion. German author E.T.A. Hoffmann described the essence of Romanticism simply as “infinite yearning.” Romantic artists and thinkers also championed defiance, nonconformity, and following the impulses of one’s imagination. In many ways, Romantics were not unlike those involved in the Punk movement in the late 1970s (only better dressed). The hero of the Romantic Era was the “Wanderer.” The sensitive misfit, forsaking his home and worldly possessions, returning to nature in a quest to find the fullest expression of his or her soul—this was what all Romantics strived to become. Removing oneself from regimented and orderly society was the only way to access pure inspiration; they thought that the right person, when left alone, could be capable of creating a completely original artistic masterpiece. From this concept, the notion of “genius” emerged. To Romantics, Winterreise could only have sprung from the genius of Franz Schubert. «

THE BATTLE OF HERNANI One of the defining moments of the Romantic Era occurred on February 25th, 1830, in France. Victor Hugo, one of the godfathers of Romanticism and author of Les Miserables, had amassed a huge fan base of young artists and writers. With a wellpublicized premiere of his new play, Hernani, just around the corner, Hugo decided to ensure a full house by inviting his small army of budding Romantics to opening night. Swarms of “...wild whimsical characters, bearded, long-haired, dressed in every fashion except the reigning one, in pea-jackets, Spanish cloaks, in waistcoats a la Robespierre, in Henry III bonnets...” descended on the Comédie-Française (the most esteemed theater in Paris), much to the disgust of the aristocratic patrons in attendance. The performance was delayed for several hours, during which the Romantic crowd broke out into fights, heckled the wealthy patrons, trashed the theater and—essentially— turned a classy night at the theater into a punk-rock show. No other event captures the restless, countercultural spirit of the Romantics as well as the “Battle of Hernani.” 7

With a Little Help from His


Schubert had a fiercely loyal and affectionate group of friends, most of whom Schubert met through Joseph von Spaun, a school friend of Schubert’s. Mostly painters and poets, these men would often visit the home of von Spaun to discuss the latest politics, drink the finest (or cheapest) wine, and revel in Schubert’s most recent creation. His friends greatly supported him and, in 1821, pooled their money to publish his “Erlkönig” (translated as “Elf King,” a brilliant musical composition based on a poem by Goethe), effectively beginning Schubert’s professional musical career. Schubert and company gathered often during the composer’s brief life, and these casual get-togethers, the Schubertiades, are recreated in Three Pianos.

So...who was on Schubert’s guest list at the original Schubertiades? Read on! 8



An aging Baritone who recognized Schubert’s budding genius and dedicated his final performing years to Schubert’s music. Schubert and he would travel around giving lieder recital tours.

Schubert’s friend at school who introduced him to the artists who would become his inner circle, also a frequent recorder and critic of these events and performances.



A young painter, he drew a picture showing a Schubertiad, but not until 1868, 40 years after Schubert’s death. His drawing (pictured above) is one of the best representations of what these events were like.

A painter and friend “good and faithful,” trusted to know the true severity of Schubert’s illness and his resulting intermittent depression.

Continued... 9



He represented everything Schubert was not: a superficial, handsome aristocrat and wealthy womanizer. He was said to be bad influence on Schubert with his reckless behavior. He also wrote several poems that Schubert set to music as well as the libretto of Schubert’s first mature opera.

A poet friend of Schubert’s but also one of Emperor Franz I’s censors, meaning he would be on the lookout for any subversive behavior or content. Luckily, he was off duty when attending the Schubertiades. Mayrhofer’s image has been lost to history (or...censored?).





A German contemporary of Schubert, he wrote the poems which inspired two of Schubert’s song cycles: Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin. The two never met.

Schubert’s teacher who attempted to dissuade his young pupil’s interest in composing German songs, being the proud Italian he was. An early influence on Schubert, but actually most famous for being a rival composer of Mozart’s. «

Three Guys, Three Pianos

The creators and stars of Three Pianos--Rick Burkhardt, Alec Duffy and Dave Malloy--sound off on Franz Schubert and Winterreise. Dave: “We definitely don’t dwell on the dark and gloomy in the show. There’s a lot of variety within the songs Schubert wrote. There are fun, happy songs. Beautiful, lovely songs. Fast songs, major keys songs… One of the first things we did when creating Three Pianos was think about the fun we could have with these songs.”

Alec: “[My father] started developing this theory about the plot of the song cycle...In the last song, the wanderer finally reaches this village and sees the first human in the cycle, who is an old man playing a hurdy-gurdy with an empty plate at his feet, shivering in the cold, his fingers numb. The wanderer asks him, “Hurdy-gurdy man, will you play your hurdy-gurdy to my songs?” And that’s the last line in [Winterreise]. My dad’s theory was that the hurdygurdy man is the wanderer…and that the twenty-three songs that have come prior were actually all songs by the hurdy-gurdy player himself…”

Rick: “The story is that a group of people who were all writing poems, at the time when the romantic poem was a new idea, found in Schubert a wonderful champion of their work who would not only set their work to music, but also illuminate its meanings in ways that they themselves hadn’t considered. So you have a social setting in which a group of people get together to witness this strange musical transformation of their words...There’s also an indication that ‘Schubertiade’ became kind of a code word for this group’s self-awareness as an artistic movement. There’s one letter I particularly love in which one of these poets says, ‘I was feeling really lonely the other night so I threw myself a Schubertiade in my own room.’ So apparently it also works with just one person. You can get a little ego boost from the experience of a personal Schubertiade.”




How Schubertiades Changed the World

The Schubertiade gathered like-minded artists together to share their work, make new work, and discuss the relationship between their art and the world at large. The idea of the close knit artistic community—and the value of friends who cherish and contribute to your creativity—lies at the heart of Three Pianos. Here are some examples of other Schubertiade-esque communities that made an indelible mark on history:

THE PARISIAN SALON Paris has long been a hotbed of forward thought and artistic freedom. As early as the 17th Century, noblemen engaged in conversation at Versailles. The rising Bourgeois (middle class) began to hold their own meetings free of the court’s control, thus beginning the subversive nature of Salons. At the turn of the 18th Century, artists, writers, and philosophers joined these conversations and promoted the social and intellectual revolution of the Enlightenment. Since there may be dozens of Salons happening all at once in the heart of Paris, hosts and hostesses would entice the intellectual heavyweights to their party with lavish spreads of food, wine and rare books. Baron D’Holbach’s “Coterie” was the swankiest Salon of them all, and attracted such famous thinkers as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Denis Diderot and Adam Smith.


THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE The Harlem Renaissance was an artistic movement led by African-Americans in the early 20th century, in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City. A tight knit community of writers and poets found the opportunity to voice, process, and publicize ideas about what it meant to be a person of color. Their individual works and collective power influenced the future of artistic, cultural and political history in the U.S. Amongst these artists were Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and James Weldon Johnson.

THE BEAT GENERATION After World War II, the Unites States experienced an important cultural changethe country was financially stable, men were back from war, and subsequently, the value of material success and traditional family life increased. Many individuals felt oppressed by these expectations, desiring to follow different paths, ones where they could find more meaning in their lives through creative work. Once these individuals found one another, the Beat culture was born. Jack Kerouac, a Columbia dropout disillusioned and confused but artistically stimulated, began to hang around a degenerate group: Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr, Williams S. Burroughs, and a street cowboy from Denver named Neal Cassady. Friends brought others to this “in” crowd and these men quickly formed the basis of a movement of non-conformity and spontaneity that would inspire generations to come. This group of previously lost individuals discovered life together through the exploration of alternative sexuality, spirituality, religion, and art. «


TAKE IT FURTHER Study Questions

1. Have you ever been to something like a “Schubertiade?” How was your experience similar to Schubert and his friends? 2. What aspects of Romanticism do you see alive and well in today’s culture? 3. List other examples of artistic communities like the Schubertiade. How did they make an impact on society, politics or the arts? 4. What do you consider to be the ideal form of art? If you were to gather a group of like-minded artists and friends together, like Schubert and company, what would you want everyone to have in common? 5. What is your favorite song in Schubert’s Winterreise? Why? 6. How do Dave, Rick and Alec revise, refresh and rearrange Schubert’s music in Three Pianos? Why adapt a piece of classical music in this way? 7. A shared love of Winterreise led Dave, RIck and Alec to create Three Pianos. If you were to create a play with your friends or family, what shared interest would inspire you? 8. Schubert and his friends created groundbreaking art during a time of political turmoil. Why do you think that, historically, artists like Schubert have fluorished during times of political or social oppression?

Sources Brooklyn College. “Romanticism.” Adapted from A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature. October 7, 2010. Davetian, Benet. “The History and Meaning of Salons.” November 15, 2010. Erickson, Raymond. Schubert’s Vienna. Yale University Press, 1997. Gibbs, Christopher H. The Life of Schubert. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Kramer, Lawrence. Franz Schubert: Sexuality, Subjectivity, Song. Cambridge University Press, 2003 Murray, Christopher John. Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 17601850. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2004. Perry, Jeffrey. “The Wanderer’s Many Returns: Schubert’s Variations Reconsidered.” The Journal of Musicology. Vol. 19, No. 2 (Spring, 2002), pp. 374-416. University of California Press. Ringer, Mark. Schubert’s Theater of Song: a Listener’s Guide. New York: Amadeus Press, 2009. Van Tassel, Eric. “Something Utterly New: Listening to Schubert’s Lieder. 1: Vogl and the Declamatory Style.” Early Music Vol. 25, No. 4, 25th Anniversary Issue; Listening Practice (Nov., 1997), pp. 702-714. Oxford University Press


Supervising Editor: Brendan Shea



Contributors: Anneke Reich, Katie Palmer Select materials in this Toolkit were originally produced by New York Theatre Workshop for its run of Three Pianos. Director of Education, New York Theatre Workshop: Bryn Thorsson Education Intern, New York Theater Workshop: Katie Palmer Learn more at:

Photo Credits p. 2: Rick Burkhardt, Dave Malloy and Alec Duffy in the New York Theatre Workshop production of Three PIanos (photo: Ryan Jensen) p. 4: Burkhardt as Schubert in Three Pianos (photo: Jean Marcus) p. 5: Burkhardt in Three Pianos (photo: Ryan Jensen) p. 6: Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) p. 7: Paul Albert Besnard, Battle of Hernani (1903) p. 8: Malloy, Duffy and Burkhardt in Three Pianos (photo: Jean Marcus) p. 9: Josef Kriehuber, Portrait of Johann Michael Vogl (1830) p. 9: Artist unknown, Portrait of Joseph von Spaun p. 9: Leopold Kupelwieser, Self Portrait (1822) p. 10: Leopold Kupelwieser, Portrait of Franz von Schober p. 10: Artist Unknown, Portrait of Wilhelm Müller p. 10: Joseph Willbrod Mähler, Portrait of Antonio Salieri (1825) p. 11: The cast of Three Pianos (photo: Ryan Jensen) p. 12: Adolph Menzel Skizzenbach, Das Flötenkonzert (1850-52) p. 13: Archibald Motley, Saturday Night (1935) p. 13: Beatniks at Caffe Trieste (photo: Unknown)

Profile for American Repertory Theater

Three Pianos Toolkit  

This Educational Toolkit contains mini-lessons on Schubert, background info on the song play "Three Pianos, and all kinds of neat features t...

Three Pianos Toolkit  

This Educational Toolkit contains mini-lessons on Schubert, background info on the song play "Three Pianos, and all kinds of neat features t...