Bernard Dieter, a professor at Chicago Conservatory College, could sit at the piano and play from memory any masterpiece of Western music. That included any symphony or piano concerto by Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms, any Strauss tone poem, any scene from any Wagner opera or any 20th-century work up until the death of Bartok in 1945. The guy knew music better than anyone I’ve ever met.
Every so often, he’d get on the subject of Franz Schubert. “Had he lived into his 50s, he’d have eclipsed Beethoven,” he’d say, repeating it every few weeks while sitting at the piano. “I say this simply on the strength of his Great C Major Symphony, his 600 songs and his Mass in A-Flat Major.” He’d then launch into the opening bars of Der Erlkönig, a Schubert song that conjures a thicket of human emotion.