Episodes in Virtuosity: Raphella Smits

The word virtuoso is defined as, "a musician who is a consummate master of technique and artistry." or "… an individual who possesses outstanding technical ability at singing or playing a musical instrument."

When I decided to that I was going to be a serious (classical) musician, I regarded this word with esteem and respect. I saw the aspiration for virtuosity as a means of achieving self-actualization, and decided to dedicate my life towards this realization. However, like so many things, after six years of conservatory training the shine wore off this word and I fear that I have lost my reverence for the beautiful. After all, art is the habit of the artist. Nevertheless, it is my intent to use this platform to (re)discover, admire, and share music/musicians of the highest caliber, in any and all genres, strictly for the purpose of listening to Music worth listening to

Raphaella Smits: Standchen

I was first introduced to this performer and performance in the sophomore year of my undergraduate. It was a revelation – such care, control, beauty of tone, phrasing, and imagination. This was sound that would move me to action. I heard this piece for the first time in the morning, was practicing it by the afternoon, and I still keep the sheet music in my active repertoire binder and revisit regularly. 

The path this piece has take through history to find its way here today is an interesting one. The composition was originally penned for voice and piano by the wonderful Franz Schubert (1797-1828), soon after adapted by pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886), subsequently reworked for the solo guitar by Johann Kaspar Mertz (1806-1856) and finally recorded by Raphaella Smits in 2001, but on a guitar from the 19th Century. This piece was before you, and it will outlive you. Fact.

As previously mentioned, Schubert's Lieder (collection of songs) were originally for voice and piano, and as such, it contained lyrics. The english translation from the origianl German is written below.


My songs quietly implore you through the night; down to the silent wood my love, come to me! The tree tops whisper in the light of the moon; Don't be afraid, my love, no-one will observe us.

Can you hear the nightingales? Oh! They implore you, their sweet lament pleads with you on my behalf.

They understand the yearning I feel, they know love's tor ture, with their silvery notes they touch every soft heart.

Let them touch yours, too, sweet love: hear my plea! Trembling I await you, come, bring me bliss!  

One of the problems in playing songs arranged for an instrumental performance is that when the words are removed, the second and third verse sound exactly like the first and the arranger must find another way means other than text to maintain the listeners attention. When Liszt arranged this work for solo piano he had the advantage of a wider range of notes on his instrument than Mertz did on the guitar (piansts arranging Lieder will often times find musical variety in a change of register). One of the things I enjoy most about the guitar version, and Raphaella Smit's performance, is the use of melodic echo in the later verses to keep the arrangement from growing stale.

This performance is a stunning example of artistry on the guitar. All things Raphaella Smits, including tour dates, discogohphy, youtube channel, and interviews can be found on her official webpage. For a direct line to her album sales on itunes click hereYou dig?