Saturday, January 8, 2011

Around 'Three Pianos,' Enjoyment Aplenty

Three men – Dave Malloy, Alec Duffy, Rick Burkhardt and a trio of instruments, above, in “Three Pianos.” Photos by Joan Marcus.


to Wikipedia, during Franz Schubert’s life Schubertiades were usually informal, unadvertised gatherings held at private homes. Generally, they involved the composer’s participation, but not necessarily.

After Schubert’s death, a Schubertiade was organized to honor him. The reasons were twofold. First, to draw attention to his work since it did not garner the notice it deserved during his life, and to give him his rightful place alongside Beethoven and Mozart.

In “Three Pianos,” the Schubertiade is an occasion for Franz Schubert and his friends – portrayed by Rick Burkhardt, Dave Malloy and Alec Duffy, and the actors also playing themselves – to drink and play and sing. By the way, the drinking extends to the audience which is supplied refills of Terra Fossil Wines by DM.

The party takes place on a wintry evening in what appears to be a loft decorated with Schubertalia: a dollhouse-style Viennese church, a miniature graveyard and the three upright pianos of the title. The setting is the present day in Schubert’s apartment. RB, DM, and AD are enjoying an evening of songs. (See video at

"Winterreise" (Winter Journey/Op. 89, D. 911), a 24-song cycle set to poems by Wilhelm Müller and written for tenor and piano, informs the exploits in “Three Pianos.” It was written a year before Schubert’s death at age 31 and is filled with some dark, wintry themes.

Dave Malloy and Alec Duffy stand on either side of a retiring Rick Burkhardt as Schubert in "Three Pianos."

The three actors wrote, arranged the music and are the creators of the OBIE-winning “Three Pianos. The music-theater piece premiered in March at the Ontological-Hysteric Theater and has been extended at New York Theatre Workshop until 16 Jan. It is inspired by the discovery of a copy of the Winterreise at a party at Judson Church in February 2009.

The inventive musical arrangements are not always straightforwardly classical interpretations of the song cycle. English translations of the songs appear on a framed screen hanging at centerstage. DM, RB and AD have pleasant, untrained voices and acknowledge that Schubert’s songs may sound strange performed so informally.

“Three Pianos” presents a daunting challenge for this reviewer: Do I know enough about music, or about Schubert, or his song cycles to tackle this? Am I equipped to comment on the inside jokes about the composer and his circle? Certainly not. Was I able to thoroughly enjoy the banter, play-acting, wit and whimsy RB, DM and AD bring to the party? Absolutely.

Visit http://

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .