The Beatles track Ned Rorem called “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote”

Over a century before Beatlemania took over the planet, classical was king. Pre-vinyl, pre-radio, and most definitely pre-streaming, those who could afford to devote their time to orchestras and operas rather than riffs and rock and roll. The era spawned composers who have been remembered as greats in music history, from Beethoven to Mozart to Schubert.

The mind behind over 600 vocal works, seven symphonies, operas and more, Schubert was a classical pioneer working in the early 1800s. Though the audience surrounding classical music has gradually diminished over time, there are few who wouldn’t recognise his name or feel moved by his dense compositions.

Fast-forward by around 130 years, and classical had given way to popular music. The Beatles may seem to have nothing in common with the classical piano and chamber music Schubert composed, but their impact on the history of music was just as remarkable. Pioneers of rock and roll, recording revolutionaries, and inventors of the industry as we know it today, the Liverpool four-piece changed music forever.

In a 1967 edition of Time, art song composer Ned Rorem dubbed the Beatles as “colleagues” of his, “speaking the same language with different accents,” before suggesting their track ‘She’s Leaving Home’, from the iconic Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was “equal to any song that Shubert ever wrote”. His claim was also supported by composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein.

A baroque pop track penned by Paul McCartney and John Lennon, ‘She’s Leaving Home’ was released on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Opening with fluttering strings, it’s immediately apparent why Rorem picked the track to compare to Schubert. The track contained multiple violins, violas and cellos, a double bass and a harp, all providing a bed for McCartney and Lennon to sing of a young girl who had left her parents’ home.

The song follows the unnamed girl (though it was based on the real-life story of Melanie Coe) as she travels far away from home and the consequential devastation felt by her parents, lamenting, “How could she do this to me?” With dramatic swells and an equally dramatic narrative, the track does contain all the beauty of a classical composition.

‘She’s Leaving Home’ was so beautiful that it even reduced the Beach Boys founder and pop composition legend Brian Wilson to tears. When McCartney played him a tape of the song, it was so impactful that it allowed him to realise the effect of his own music.

Whether or not ‘She’s Leaving Home’ really is comparable or equal to the compositions of Schubert is down to personal taste and interpretation, but there’s no denying that they both left a lasting impression on music history.

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