To my knowledge, Artur Schnabel and Eduard Erdmann were the first pianists to play Schubert’s last three sonatas in one evening. After one of my own performances of this wonderful, if strenuous, program, a Viennese newspaper pronounced that even if I, as somebody who had turned his back on Vienna, wanted to deny the fact, I must have “experienced” these pieces while I was resident in Schubert’s city. How Schubert’s sonatas, his Winterreise and Heine songs, the Mass in E flat or the String Quintet, could be “experienced” in Vienna these days was not disclosed. Not that Schubert had ever been the kind of regional musician that a cosmopolitan like Busoni chose to see in him. There is no shortage of elements in his music that came from outside the boundaries of his city: we detect a Hungarian flavor in the finale of the B flat sonata, Bohemian dances (polka and sousedská) in the third of his Posthumous Pieces, and even a tarantella in the macabre finale of the C minor sonata that relates in spirit much less to Schubert’s painter friends Kupelwieser and Schwind than to the black fantasies of Goya (who, incidentally, also died in 1828).
What is a “Viennese composer”? (Besides Schubert, the critic mentioned Mahler and Alban Berg.) Is he somebody whom the Viennese punished because he did not compose like Johann Strauss—somebody whose uncomfortable music had to be administered to the Viennese belatedly, and with a great deal of effort? In a letter of 1827, Schubert describes Metternich’s Vienna as follows: “It is admittedly rather big, but makes up for it by being devoid of cordiality, openness, true thought, sensible words and, in particular, spirited deeds.” Even today, Vienna may be the right place to teach musicians what a Strauss waltz is about. But to claim that there ever existed, or still exists, a Viennese Schubert tradition is wishful thinking. Apart from Brahms, the North German, few musicians took any interest in Schubert’s instrumental music in nineteenth-century Vienna. (The Schubert enthusiasts Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Anton Rubinstein, Dvorák, and George Grove were occasional guests from abroad.) How many of the great Schubert singers or conductors originated from Schubert’s home town or home country? Where, until fairly recently, were the Viennese pianists who might have championed Schubert’s sonatas? For Sauer, Rosenthal, or Godowsky, these were of no consequence. They owed their discovery to the Berlin of the 1920s—to Schnabel and Erdmann. Schnabel did indeed study in Vienna; but even if he had been advised to look at Schubert’s unexplored sonatas, his teacher Leschetizky would hardly have told him how they ought to be played. Significantly, Schnabel’s enormous influence as a teacher did not permeate Vienna at all.
These days, Vienna does not provide more clues about Schubert than any other city. Admittedly, the panorama from the Belvedere has hardly changed since Schubert’s time. Do people, however, still live in one-room apartments—as did Schubert’s father with his family—and give birth to their children in a small alcove that also serves as a kitchen? Do grown-ups still play blindman’s buff? Are manuscripts submitted to the censor? Is the country governed by a parliament, or by its secret police? Is that popular and suburban music which so charmed Schubert still a living musical presence or, rather, a beautiful relic from “better times”? Even the Viennese claim that Vienna remains Vienna (Wien bleibt Wien) turns out to be a delusion of the Viennese.
Schubert’s death at thirty-one deprived us of many possible masterpieces, though hardly, as Franz Grillparzer’s epitaph suggests, of even fairer accomplishments. His last three sonatas should not be taken as a final message. As far as we know, they were composed in the brief period between May and September 1828. The fair copy was made just a few weeks before he died of typhoid fever, his constitution having been weakened by syphilis, and by a burst of productivity, frantic even by his standards, during the last year of his life. Since the death of his mother in 1812, he may have had to cope with a growing presence of death in himself. Yet, as it seems to me, Schubert had no intimation that his own death was imminent when he finished his last sonatas, and most probably also his C major quintet, in the autumn of 1828.
After Schubert’s death, it took eleven years for his last sonatas to appear in print. Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Mozart’s pupil and a leading pianist of his day, had been Schubert’s intended dedicatee; following Hummel’s death in 1837, however, the publisher chose Schumann, who, in his Neue Zeitschrift, für Musik, had so warmly praised Schubert’s E flat piano trio, his D minor quartet, and the piano sonatas in A minor (D. 845), D major, and G major. Regrettably, the last sonatas disappointed him. He criticized in them “a much greater simplicity [Einfalt] of invention,” and “the spinning out of certain general musical ideas where he usually interweaves new threads from period to period.” If Schumann wanted to hint at a greater concentration of musical material, and the use that is made of it—if, that is, we were to interpret Einfalt as “unity”—we could agree and, unlike Schumann, acclaim it as a benefit. Alas, he also tells us about Schubert’s
voluntary renunciation of shining novelty, where he usually applies such high standards to himself…. As if there could be no end, no doubt how to continue, always musical and singable, [these pieces] ripple along from page to page, interrupted here and there by stirrings of some vehemence which, however, are quickly calmed.
It is to be hoped that Schumann, in later years, came to know the pieces better, and to regret his statements. Not even from Schumann will I accept that Schubert’s sonatas “ripple along.” The occasional “stirrings of some vehemence” amount, not infrequently, to grandly dramatic developments, if not, as in the C minor sonata, to the impetuosity of whole movements. As for the “voluntary renunciation of novelty,” the middle section of the A major sonata’s second movement alone should suffice as a striking counterexample; even today, this eruption of the irrational must rank among the most daring and terrifying pages in all music.
“As if there could be no end”—Schubert’s “lengths,” which, two years later when writing about the Great C major Symphony, Schumann came to consider “heavenly,” were deemed by many to be Schubert’s principal weakness. Even Mendelssohn felt obliged to make cuts when he conducted the C major symphony in Leipzig, and the pianist Harold Bauer, at the beginning of this century, produced an abridged version of the B flat sonata. Meanwhile, acquaintance with music of Brucknerian and Mahlerian dimensions has eased the perception of wide musical spaces. A change of aesthetic appetite has occurred. Concert marathons, huge television serials, the Berlin six-hour Hamlet, whispered and in slow motion, are produced while neoexpressionist painters savage their oversized canvasses. Art should forget its constraints, mix the disparate, be unreasonable, want more than it can do, and do more than anybody can want. Boundless is beautiful. (The novel, on the other hand, which once presented an entire world, has shrunk into the private and fragmentary.)
Whereas Schubert’s music used to appear too long, suddenly it cannot be long enough. While some older pianists played the first movement of the B flat sonata in an almost nervous alla breve, two beats to a bar, it is nowadays, in extreme cases, played in eight, with the repeated exposition thrown in for good measure, making for a movement longer than the sum of the three remaining ones.
If I understand Schubert rightly, his tempo indication molto moderato calls for neither approach. Moderato or mässig, a term Schubert used more often than other composers, seems to imply the calm flow of a measured allegro; molto moderato would then correspond to a none-too-dragging allegretto. Schubert’s avoidance of this word in the B flat sonata or the first of his impromptus may be explained by the fact that, like largo or grave, allegretto signifies not only a certain speed but a certain character. In accordance with its amiable sound, the word hints at graceful tripping or strolling. (Moreover, Schubert’s tempo indications for the first movements of his sonatas relate to their beginning; with the exception of the stable allegro giusto of his A minor sonata D.784, the initial tempo of all these movements becomes more flowing or more measured in the course of the exposition.)
On the question of repeats, I should like to quote from an article by Antonin Dvorák1 that has so far gone unnoticed in the Schubert literature. Altogether one of the most affectionate and sensible statements about Schubert, it offers a number of critical insights that appear almost modern. Dvorák, while sharing the view that Schubert at times did not know when to stop, says about his symphonies: “Yet, if the repeats are omitted, a course of which I thoroughly approve, and which indeed is not generally adopted, they are not too long.” Dvorák loved Schubert and knew the classical masters.o accuse him of thoughtlessness or incompetence in matters of form would be as inappropriate as to accuse Brahms, of whom Edwin Fischer reported the following:
How composers themselves sometimes feel about repeats is illuminated by what Johannes Brahms told a young musician who showed surprise when, in a performance conducted by Brahms, the exposition of the Second Symphony was not repeated. “Formerly,” explained Brahms, “when the piece was new to the audience, the repeat was necessary; today, the work is so well known that I can go on without it.”
My intention is neither to “improve” Schubert nor to abolish repeats once and for all. What Dvorák suggested (that Schubert is not too long, provided he is not made longer than necessary) seems to be particularly valid in the case of some sonata expositions. Repeat marks must not be taken as orders to be automatically obeyed, as if the repeatable section were written out by the composer. Before deciding how to proceed, one should ask oneself a number of questions:
Does a repeat, within a work or a movement, appear necessary, desirable, possible, questionable, or harmful?
Is the repeat in question a concession to the old-fashioned listener who, conditioned by preclassical dance forms, expected to be led back from the dominant to the tonic—a concession, therefore, similar to the inclusion of the minuet within the symphony or sonata as an area of repose for sluggish ears?
How extensive is the exposition of a sonata movement,and how tersely, or generously, is its music laid out? (In its number of bars, the exposition of Schubert’s A major sonata more than doubles that of Beethoven’s “Appassionata”; it even exceeds that of the “Hammerklavier” sonata, which, moreover, moves at about twice the speed, while presenting its material with the highest degree of density.)
How similar in their features are exposition and recapitulation? (In Schubert, usually almost identical. Except for a few, significant modulations and transpositions, only interrupted by the development, the listener is given the chance of wandering twice through virtually the same musical landscape.)
Are the themes within a movement distinctly different in character; as generally in Beethoven, or intimately connected, as sometimes in Schubert?
Do the first two movements present, as in Beethoven’s allegro and adagio, a marked contrast, or neighboring areas of tempo, as often in Schubert’s moderato and andante?
What are the consequences of a repeat for the equilibrium of all movements within the whole work? (In the last Schubert sonatas, the final rondos have adopted features of sonata form; their symmetrical scheme, with a development section in the middle, seems to me much more happily matched if the first movement repeat is ignored.)
Finally, repeats should be considered in conjunction with the shape of a whole recital program. A cyclical performance of Schubert’s last three sonatas in one evening rules them out.
Of Beethoven’s repeats, only a few are not immediately compelling. In Schubert, psychological considerations will often overrule formal ones. In music, as in eating, quantity can be an important factor; as the British critic Bernard Jacobson has wittily pointed out, there is the musical equivalent of the gourmand and the gourmet, the glutton and the restrained epicure. Some musicians seem quite unable to stop making music, unless they fall asleep. Similarly, critics have emerged—and Jacobson, with admirable candor, counts himself among them—who cannot have enough of a piece they love. I side with the gourmets: Marco Ferreri’s notorious film La Grande Bouffe, in which a few gentlemen overeat until they drop dead, has not spoiled my appetite. True gourmands avoid seeing it.
Not only in his Moments musicaux and in countless songs, but also in a work like the A minor sonata D.784 Schubert could be admirably concise. I hardly see him among musical gourmands, anyway. Sketches for his last sonatas show—if one had not surmised it already—how selfcritically he proceeded. They also reveal that Schubert’s “lengths” only appear obsessive where the music is meant to express an obsessive state of mind. Schubert needs a lot of space in order to move freely. In some of his earlier sonatas certain ideas did not receive the breathing space they deserved. In the sketches for the later sonatas, Schubert’s expanding interpolations are particularly convincing (see box).2
Classical forms define boundaries. The space Schubert needs in which to move freely has little to do with classical definitions. Haydn did not require such amplitude, although his desire to surprise, his inclination to roam, his naivete as well as daring may at times resemble Schubert’s. (Haydn, of course, springs surprises, while Schubert allows himself to be surprised.) Mozart’s form gives constant proof of a perfection seemingly without aim or constraint. For Beethoven, form is the triumph of order over chaos, a triumph furthermore of its concord with whatever has to be “expressed.” Schubert’s form is often enough a matter of propriety, a “veil of order”—to quote Novalis—that barely conceals the most beautiful chaos music has ever seen.
As early as 1827 the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung noted in Connection with the first movement of the G major sonata that “within its not unusual formal layout, everything interior [alles Innere] is unusual, and fantastic.” Gustav Mahler later spoke of Schubert’s “unfettered layout beneath the customary,” and Hans Költzsch, the author of a book that for several decades remained the only (and largely dubious) investigation of Schubert’s sonatas,3 offered the view that Schubert’s particular quality as a “Romantic” consisted in the dissolution of the classical legacy from within by preserving, on the outside, much of the old shell. According to Költzsch, “isolated deviations from the scheme point out the whole distance of the new forces from tradition” while, at other times, “the same effect is achieved by all too schematic compliance with formal usage.”
In his large forms, Schubert is the wanderer. He likes to move at the edge of the precipice, and does so with the assurance of a sleepwalker. To wander is the Romantic condition; one surrenders to it enraptured (as in the final movement of the A major sonata), or one is driven, and plagued (as in the C minor sonata), by the terror of finding no way out. More often than not, happiness is but the surface of despair. Suddenly, the mind is overcast. Nothing is more typical of Schubert than those febrile afflictions of unease and horror, the most extreme of which, in the second movement of the A major sonata, hardly attempts to assume a veil of order anymore: apart from chromatic steps in the bass, the only remnants of organization are a few of those motivic particles which the three sonatas have in common. Significantly, this movement assembles all three dark keys—F sharp minor, C minor, and, at the climax of the central action, C sharp minor—as the utmost concentration of the trilogy’s depressive forces.
Order, even if only an adornment through which the chaos of emotion shines, is decisive because it makes the work of art possible. Such order, however, is never complete. Modern science seems to have moved away from the idea of a rigorous master plan behind the evolution of nature. The concept now is not that of an engineer strictly realizing a design but rather, as suggested by François Jacob, that of a tinkerer who uses the available components as best he can, mending, combining, or producing mutations, purposely or at random. The composer proceeds “naturally” in a similar way. He keeps to the available basic material, usually provided at the beginning of a piece; he sifts, arranges, varies, develops, or comments, aided by hypothetical working schemes that leave a small but important area open to chance, and whim.
Among the concepts of order that have made their imprint on Schubert’s sonatas is that of a connection between themes, a cohesion of movements. How verifiable is this cohesion? Many words have been expended on the “inner unity” of a cyclical work, relying too often on interpretive notions rather than on evidence provided by the musical material. The first to speak about a “common substance of all movements” was, to my knowledge, Walter Engelsmann (Beethovens Kompositionspläne, 1931). According to Engelsmann, each Beethoven sonata is “in all its sections, movements and themes, developed from one single principal theme or motif.” It is hardly surprising that Engelsmann did not manage to present convincing proof for this ambitious thesis. For analysts, the pipedream of a system into which everything can be crammed, and by which everything can be evaluated, is a temptation that is rarely resisted; all too easily, the analyst sees what is hardly there while overlooking what should be evident.4
Masterpieces never give all their secrets away, not even those of craftsmanship. Invariably, only a few threads are disclosed. Pursuing the thread of motivic connections is a great deal more profitable than opinion on the Continent would acknowledge. The word “analysis” is sometimes held to stand for a process that dissolves the whole into its component parts—while, in fact, it ought to serve as a guide from the particular toward the whole. Long before the advent of twelve-tone technique, motivic and thematic cross-references provided the most unequivocal hallmarks of musical cohesion. When, however, Hans Keller sought to unearth, in the manifest contrasts of a work, the latent elements of their unity, I asked myself whether such elements necessarily should be latent. Are there not manifest proofs of musical unity that are widely overlooked? I am not, of course, referring to such exceedingly audible ones as the dotted rhythm of the “Wanderer” Fantasy, Berlioz’s idée fixe, or those transformations in Liszt and César Franck that leave the notes of a theme easily recognizable while its character changes. (In Liszt’s great B minor sonata, the background of motivic relations in Beethoven’s manner is a great deal more interesting than the evident turning of Mephisto into Gretchen.) A hidden connection, says Heraclitus, is stronger than an obvious one (Fragments, 54). It is the more subtle motivic coherence that in the long run leaves the deeper mark—provided that a certain measure of musical common sense, a firm ground of verifiable facts, is not abandoned.5
Portraits of Schubert, it seems to me, often show him idealized, as if trying to produce a face harmless enough to match the sounds of Rosamunde. A more realistic Schubert is presented by the portrait without glasses of 1826 at the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, and particularly by the life mask, copies of which are preserved at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and the Vienna Conservatory. This mask, evidently suppressed by Schubert’s friends, has at last been duly noticed thanks to the efforts of Eva Badura-Skoda. (I agree with her assumption that this can hardly be Schubert’s death mask, as which it has previously been identified.) What we see is not a “Biedermeier face” but powerful, sensuous, robust, and propulsively energetic features, more akin to those of Beethoven than to Grillparzer’s, or Nestroy’s. Similarly, the musical image of an idealized, harmonious Schubert has for a long time determined the taste of performers and listeners. Even today, he remains for some largely a source of lyrical, genial, mellow and elegiac pleasures. The “wellknown timidity and phlegm,” ascribed to Schubert by Schindler, is unhesitatingly applied to the character of his works. (From the recollections of Schubert’s friends, he appears a lot less timid than Schindler made him out to be; and what could be phlegmatic about the temperament of a man who produced nearly a thousand compositions in a short lifetime?)
“A gentle melancholy pervades Schubert’s music,” Arthur Godel writes.6 The crisp enthusiasm of the Great C major Symphony, the vitality of many scherzos, the fury of certain final movements, the acute despair of Winterreise, the terror of “Der Doppelgänger,” are all as far removed from gentleness as Goya is from Schubert’s Viennese painter friends. To be sure, Schubert, that most immediately moving of all composers, offers, next to the chill of his dances of death, something like the warmth and shelter of death, its sweetness and enticement, its siren songs and lure of surrender. With the death of his mother, the image of death and the memory of his mother seem to have merged. But here as well, the word “gentle” will not do. The singer who observes the dynamic markings of Winterreise (predominantly written down in the piano part) will be bound to startle those listeners who consider an evenly beautiful sound and a nobly shaped phrase as the quintessence of lieder singing, and Winterreise as the musical portrait of a resigned old man.
To a greater extent than those of Beethoven, Schubert’s markings demand extremes. (The same applies to his daring harmony, which loves to juxtapose chromatic neighboring keys.) Experience teaches the player, however, that Schubert’s markings are frequently incomplete; they tend to omit intermediate dynamic steps, as for instance in bars 184–224 of the B flat finale: taken literally, a decrescendo is supposed to start after nineteen bars of pianissimo, followed by another decrescendo eight bars later, which, in its turn, after four bars, would lead into a diminuendo that would prevail for the last eight bars. Even as an idea this hardly makes musical sense. Schubert evidently left it to the player to take some corrective action, such as starting each phrase (upbeat 202, 210, 216) on a somewhat higher dynamic level. In his notation, Schubert takes too many things for granted: I wonder whether he ever had the chance to hear his piano works played by others, and to react to performances.
Another source of misunderstanding is that of Schubert’s all too numerous accents, which, in his autographs, vary considerably in size and graphic emphasis. Accents and diminuendo signs may thus look identical. (The new Complete Schubert Edition by Bärenreiter unduly simplifies the problem by frequently giving a very small accent sign instead of keeping as closely as possible to Schubert’s own ambiguity, and leaving decisions to the player.) The matter is a particularly precarious one on the keyboard: Schubert’s accent mania calls for discretion if the pianist wants to avoid sounding pedantic or hitting individual notes on the head in a cantabile phrase. Schubert’s old-fashioned triplet notation with dotted notes has justly received some publicity in recent years. Here, I should like to correct myself and announce that, in the Adagio of the C minor sonata, I have now come to adjust the dotted octave leaps (bar 32, etc.) as well—a long look at the autograph (Floersheim Collection, Basle) has taught me that polyrhythm seems out of the question. The fact that Schubert, in his clean copy, has double dots replacing the single dots of his sketch serves as an argument for, not against, triplet adjustment: only the shorter rhythmic value may be adjusted.
Examining Schubert’s autographs proves essential for yet another reason: his application of ties is casual, incomplete, and sometimes indecisive. I have adopted the habit of treating such ties in secondary voices ad libitum, following my ear.
Among Schubert’s last sonatas, the one in B flat has, in our century, cast the strongest spell. One could call it the most beautiful and moving, the most resigned and harmoniously balanced, tallying most easily with the concept of a gently melancholic Schubert.
The first two movements sound valedictory. Farewells are not necessarily composed in the face of impending death. Beethoven had a penchant for farewells far beyond his “Lebewohl” (Les Adieux) sonata: from the Andante favori to the Adagio of Op. 111 and the final minuet of the Diabelli Variations, “Lebewohl” pervades some of his codas, both in the sound of its syllables and as an emotional hue.
Everything in the B flat sonata seems controlled and considered. The F sharp minor theme that so startled Adorno, far from appearing out of the blue, has its harmonic and motivic roots in the lines before, and the aggressive episodes of the finale are preceded by the kind of silence that anticipates the storm. Only those transitional bars in the first movement ignore the newly acquired countenance—an intrusion from the feverish regions of the other two sonatas, carried over from an earlier phase of conception that seems to me no less ill-advised than the execution of the repeat that these bars instigate.
If the B flat sonata is the most beautiful, the one in A major must be the most astonishing and interesting. In it, the brightest of worlds faces its darkest counterpart. Between movements that, luminously, bring together certitude and adventurous flight of fancy, sweetness and mystery, wit and abandon, stillness and chromatic uproar, there is the Andantino spelling out the most acute emotional disturbance. The first movement maintains a precarious balance between improvisation and construction, operating with changing degrees of weight, varying its narrative pace, and disclosing the highly unusual design of its form only with hindsight. The coda quotes the movement’s initial idea in a different light: not with timpani strokes of confidence but in a whisper; not in public but in secret. Its final arpeggios combine elements of both initial characters—broken chord and octave leap—reversing their direction: descending, not ascending. Artur Schnabel seems to have been the first pianist to have given the sonata its due. Even today, his 1937 recording transmits the freshness of an exhilarating discovery.
Seekers after comforting musical beauty will be taken aback by the C minor sonata; predominantly somber, passionate, and icy, it may well be the most unsensual, uninviting, and, behind its classicist facade, neurotic sonata Schubert wrote.
Schubert helped to carry Beethoven’s coffin. In the following year he evokes the memory of Beethoven and the classical style without being a docile follower. Rather, Schubert’s familiarity with Beethoven’s works taught him to be different. Dvorák noticed that Schubert, from the outset, had little in common with Beethoven, except “in the vigor and melodious flow of his basses,” already found in his early symphonies.
The fixed idea that Schubert tried to model his sonatas on Beethoven’s and failed has nevertheless confused many a listener; all the more so when, in the first decades of this century, it became fashionable to break away from Beethoven’s pathos and musical idealism. In 1927 Maurice Ravel explained Beethoven’s fame as mainly resulting from his deafness, from the legend of his life, and from the magnanimity of his social ideas! Neoclassicism, “Neue Sachlichkeit,” and protest against the dominance of “German” instrumental music combined to belittle not only Beethoven’s but some of Schubert’s music as well.
Arnold Schoenberg knew better. In a short text drafted for the centenary of Schubert’s birth,7 Schoenberg emphasizes Schubert’s inconceivably great originality in every single detail next to a crushing figure like Beethoven,” which has remained unnoticed, or actually denied. No wonder this originality was not fully appreciated, even at a time when its boldness almost ceased to be disturbing. Schoenberg’s admiration for Schubert’s “self-respect” is enormous: “Close to such crushing genius, Schubert does not feel the need to deny its greatness in order somehow to endure. What degree of self-confidence, what truly aristocratic awareness of one’s own rank which respects the equal in the other!”
Schubert is related to Beethoven, he reacts to him, but he follows him hardly at all. There is in Schubert’s late sonatas no direct allusion to Beethoven, like the one in Schumann’s C major fantasy. Similarities of motif, texture, or formal pattern never obscure Schubert’s own voice. Models are concealed, transformed, surpassed.
Beethoven’s contribution to the finale of Schubert’s great A major sonata remains hidden (or would have remained so without Charles Rosen and Edward Cone), although the movement adheres to the formal example of Beethoven’s finale from Op. 31, No. 1. Schubert’s C minor sonata seems more overtly Beethovenian in its key of C minor, its character of somber determination, its sublime Adagio replacing the usual graceful Andante, and the contribution of sonata form to its rondo. There are also resemblances of themes, as with that of Beethoven’s C minor Variations, which seems to have triggered the beginning of Schubert’s C minor sonata. However, while Beethoven organizes his theme in the stringent logic of “foreshortening,” Schubert allows his foreshortenings to go astray. The character Beethoven presents is that of defiance based on firmness of musical proportion. Schubert presents an energy that is nervous and unsettled, avoiding four-and eight-bar patterns; his pathos is steeped in fear.
The player who, at the beginning of the A flat Adagio of the C minor sonata, is reminded of Beethoven’s Adagio from Op. 10, No.1, or, rhythmically closer, of the Largo from Beethoven’s C major concerto should be aware of the different emotional situation: where Beethoven offers tenderly enraptured declarations of love, Schubert embarks on his movement in “holy sobriety” (heilignüchtern, to borrow Hölderlin’s word). The emotional climate of the D flat theme is thoroughly modified in comparison with the initial theme of Beethoven’s “Pathétique,” from which it may be derived. A second glance at the Adagio and the minuet—an antiminuet in Haydn’s fashion—reveals that these movements owe more to Haydn than to Beethoven, and to the string quartet more than to pianistic predecessors. (The fingers of every pianist will have noticed that the finale, as well, incorporates some ideas that would be more painlessly executed by the string bow.) In spirit, Schubert’s Adagio and Haydn’s slow movement from the E flat quartet Op. 76, No. 4, seem sometimes separated only by a small, albeit highly personal, step. We easily forget that the solemn adagio, also that of earlier Beethoven, originated in Haydn, and that the first of all great C minor piano sonatas was Haydn’s achievement. Even more superficial are reminiscences of Beethoven’s Op. 31, Nos. 2 and 3, in Schubert’s C minor finale, the controlled frenzy of which adopts a novel, almost pathological course.
Schubert’s last sonatas belong together. Not that they cannot be played separately; yet, as they illuminate one another, they seem to me more interdependent than the sonatas in Beethoven’s trilogies. A thesis of menace and destructive energy (C minor), followed by an antithesis of positive, luminous activity (A major), is concluded by a synthesis of resigned composure. The final movement of the B flat sonata shows a kind of gaiety neither innocent, like that of the “Trout” Quintet, nor teeth-gnashing, like that of the great string quintet’s finale. Its territory is somewhere between Jean Paulian humor and the well-known Viennese saying that life is “hopeless but not serious.” It is comforting to know that the composer of Winterreise should have been able to make light of his suffering shortly before his death. Nothing, however, could reconcile us to the cynicism of a fate that was to take his life away at the age of thirty-one.
February 2, 1989
Antonin Dvorák (in cooperation with Henry T. Finck), “Franz Schubert,” The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine (New York, 1894). ↩
A beautiful facsimile edition of Schubert’s first drafts of D. 958, 959, and 960 has been published by the Franz Schubert Institut (Hans Schneider, Tutzing, 1987). ↩
Franz Schubert in seinen Klaviersonaten, Breitkopf und Härtel, 1927. ↩
In Rudolf Réti’s motive analysis of Beethoven’s “Pathétique” sonata, the significance of the fourth and fifth and their combination as an octave for all themes is not mentioned. ↩
An extended discussion of motives will appear in the longer version of this article to be published in a forthcoming collection of essays. ↩
Arthur Godel, Schubert’s letzte drei Klaviersonaten (Valentin Koerner, 1985). ↩
In the Schoenberg Institute, Los Angeles. ↩