On a Personal Note


Episode Summary

Music Director Franz Welser-Möst recalls the automobile accident that would forever change his course, sparking a lifelong affinity for Franz Schubert in the process.

Episode Notes

Music Director Franz Welser-Möst recalls the automobile accident that would forever change his course, sparking a lifelong affinity for Franz Schubert in the process.

Featured Music

SCHUBERT – Mass No. 6 in E-flat major
2. Gloria

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Episode Transcription


Welcome to The Cleveland Orchestra’s On a Personal Note, where we explore the many ways music shapes our lives.  In difficult situations or moments of sheer joy, music connects us with our humanity.

Franz Welser-Möst:

My name is Franz Welser-Möst.  I’m music director of The Cleveland Orchestra, and I want to talk to you today about my lifelong relationship with the music by Franz Schubert.  Schubert is my earliest childhood memory, my mother playing Schubert Impromptus on the piano at home.  And I always loved his music.  And especially growing up in church music, we played and sang all the Schubert Masses.  Thinking about Schubert, who started composing very young and actually died at the age of 31 and was a maniac, really, when you think about it, how short his life was and how much music he has written throughout that short life.

On November 19, 1978, I was still in school.  It was a crisp, sunny, but cold November day.  And I was playing the violin at that time.  We played in a little village in upper Austria, Schubert’s G major Mass.

After that church service, we went to the local pub and had a nice lunch.  And after that, I went in a car with friends of mine to go to the city of Steyr, in upper Austria, where Schubert spent several summers; where he started writing the Trout Quintet.

The car we got into was a big Mercedes.  Those were the days where there were no seat belts in the car.

And on the way there, we had this terrible car accident.  I remember, like it was yesterday, that the father of the driver who was my age and just had made his driver’s license, said to him, “Just be careful, the bridges might be icy.”  And on one of these bridges, which was icy, the car started moving in a strange way, and this guy, this friend of mine, hit the brake, which was absolutely the wrong thing to do.

The last thing I remember was this incredible silence in the car as we were going off the road.  Then I lost conscious.  The car turned over several times and we landed somewhere on a field.  I remember when I woke up again, the first thought which went through my mind was, “Oh gosh, I hope we are going to make it to the concert that evening.”

In circumstances like that, nature is really forgiving and good to us.  Because at that time I could not comprehend the magnitude of what had happened, that the woman next to me in that car had died and everyone else was in intensive care.  When that car accident happened, it was the last year in college. I was studying the violin in the conservatory in Linz, and my dream was to become an orchestral player.  And, hopefully, in the Vienna Philharmonic.

With this car accident, two of my fingers on the left hand got numb and that destroyed my dream to become an orchestral violin player.  I only much, much later, months later, I realized what had happened.  And for me, personally, for 14 years, I had not one single day without being in pain.  And then only slowly via an osteopath, which I’ve found and later on with yoga, I got my sort of normal life back.

What happened to me on that November day was that I had the chance to look at the world in a different way.  It was a turning point, seeing in everyone a real true human being.  It started with me starting to search for more.  I started to study other religions. I got into philosophy.  I started to discover the world.  And I think one of the most positive outcomes for me with this accident is that searching has become one of my main goals.

And that’s something which that accident really taught me, carpe diem.  Use your days to learn to become better, to get more knowledge, more wisdom, and try to see the world in the most positive way you can.  For me, when people have talked to me, I remember when I went back to the conservatory and people would say to me, “Oh, how terrible for you and whatnot.”  And very quickly I had this attitude — no, this is something great, which has happened to me because it opened my eyes in so many ways.

What that accident taught me was nobody lives alone on this planet.  We need each other.  And we have to look out for each other.  We have responsibilities.  Classical music is about humanity, and humanity means that you have to take care of the others as well.  When we went into lockdown with our great team at The Cleveland Orchestra, we immediately talked about what can we do for the community?  We have to be leaders.

A moment like I experienced on November 19, 1978, at three o’clock in the afternoon, is as intimate of a moment as you can experience it.  There is nothing like it.  And that kind of stillness and silence, which I experienced then, which was greater than great in many ways.  I wouldn’t say beautiful, but in the depth of emotionally was so impactful on me that this kind of intimacy I look for in the music making as well.

And that’s why The Cleveland Orchestra is really sort of the perfect match for me because the Orchestra always has been looking for detail for the tiniest little things, which means intimacy.  Making music together in that wonderful, little, very rich world of Schubert — that is something which connects my emotions, my memories of that accident with what I do today, with one of the greatest orchestras in the world.


That was Franz Welser-Möst speaking about the music of Franz Schubert and the accident that caused him to see the world differently.  A near miss that marked the end of one dream and the beginning of another.  You can hear the second movement of Schubert’s Mass No. 6 in E-flat major coming up right now.  It was recorded in Severance Hall in 2019.

And on a personal note, we’re so glad to be back with you for season two.  You’ll find many more powerful stories about the personal nature of music on clevelandorchestra.com/podcast.  Thank you for listening.  Thank you for subscribing, and thank you for rating us.  It really does help other people find us.