Late Schenker and Late Schubert

Earlier this term, William Drabkin and I travelled to Maynooth to take part in the Thantos as Muse? Schubert and Concepts of Late Style conference (Maynooth, Ireland, 21-23 October 2011). This conference, organised by Lorraine Byrne Bodley (NUI, Maynooth), brought together a wide variety of Schubertians from music-historical, analytical and performance backgrounds. Schenkerian scholarship was well represented, in part by the 'Late Schenker and Late Schubert' session that I convened.

Schenker's high regard for Schubert's music, particularly the songs, secured Schubert a place in the theorist's select 'pantheon' of master-composers. But although Schubert's musical corpus was canonical for Schenker, and thus influential in the development of his thought, it nevertheless includes plentiful works that have increasingly come to be regarded as challenging for 'orthodox' Schenkerian theory. Perhaps it is this canonical and yet exceptional nature of Schubert's music that inspires such considerable and intense interest from Schenkerians.

To a modern Schubertian, a prerequisite for a meaningful consideration of the music is that it should make recourse to the culture and times in which he composed. Indeed, Schubert's private life and social circles have provided fruitful inspiration for interpreting, appreciating and accounting (often controversially) for his music. Similarly, projects like Schenker Documents Online (and some of the scholarship listed in the 'Bibliography' section of the main SDO website) seek to enable a more complete understanding of the culture and times in which Schenker worked, thus shedding new light on his revolutionary ideas.

The four papers in the 'Late Schenker and Late Schubert' session aimed to reflect this standpoint. Antonio Cascelli's (NUI, Maynooth) paper 'Schubert's Music in Schenker's Thought', described the Schenker papers held in the Oster Collection that relate to the music of Schubert, before homing in on Schenker's analysis of Schubert's song 'Die Stadt'. William Drabkin (Southampton) considered the little-known episode in Schenker's life in which he worked with Otto Erich Deutsch to prepare a revised edition of the 'Unfinished' Symphony; unpublished notes, diary entries, and correspondence with Deutsch were used to illustrate Schenker's presence on the musicological scene, at a time when the need to pursue a more narrow theoretical path seemed more pressing than ever. In 'Learning from Schenker's "Der Doppelgänger"', I considered Schenker's little-known but instructive analytical sketches of Schubert's famous song by tracing his correspondence with his pupil Felix-Eberhard von Cube, and argued that the sketches suggest that Schenker's concerns then are exactly those that interest musicologists writing about the song today. René Rusch (McGill) supplied our session's final paper, 'Schenkerian Analysis and Late Schubert', in which she examined developments in Schenkerian theory post-Schenker, particularly with respect to the challenges that Schubert's progressive formal-harmonic language pose to some of Schenkerian theory's central tenants, using the first movement of the Piano Sonata in B flat (D. 960) as an exemplar.

All of these papers frequently cited documents that have been or will shortly be made available by Schenker Documents Online. We were also delighted to hear SDO-contributor John Koslovsky's conference paper 'Tonal Structure in the Scherzo and Finale of Schubert’s Quintet in C major, D956'. John presented an analysis of the Quintet's neglected closing two movements, interpreting them as a single dramatic closing gesture to the work.

For your interest, and for the record, Bill's abstract and mine are reproduced below.

William Drabkin, 'Schenker's "Unfinished" Symphony'

Although most closely identified with the field of music theory and analysis, Heinrich Schenker devoted much time to studying composers' autographs, sketches and letters, and to preparing commentaries on these documents and editions of the works to which they refer. The corpus of his editorial work begins with the earlier part of the eighteenth century (Handel, C. P. E. Bach, J. S. Bach), then focuses on the piano sonatas of Beethoven: the Erläuterungsausgaben (1913–21); the facsimile of the 'Moonlight' (1921); and the edition of individual sonatas, later collected into four volumes (1923–24). This represents, however, only a small portion of the music he had hoped to make available in textually accurate editions free from editorial interference: editions of the Well-Tempered Clavier and the piano sonatas of Haydn and Mozart, mooted in correspondence with his publishers, were abandoned.

One project that did come to fruition was a revision of Schubert's 'Unfinished' Symphony, published under the imprint of the Wiener Philharmonischer Verlag. It does not appear in any of the standard lists of Schenker's works, nor is Schenker's editorial involvement acknowledged in the score itself. It is one of four miniature scores of the symphony preserved in his Nachlass (New York Public Library, Oster Collection): the other three have been annotated by Schenker and his pupil Angi Elias, based on a study of the autograph score. They show the theorist's characteristic attention to detail and his opposition to editorial interference, whether arbitrary or arising from practical concerns. Schenker's diary entries, together with the surviving correspondence with Otto Erich Deutsch, shows that his edition of the 'Unfinished' was an enterprise he took seriously, and valued highly.

David Bretherton, 'Learning from Schenker's "Der Doppelgänger"'

Schenker held the songs of Schubert in the highest esteem: fourteen are examined at varying length in Schenker's published works, and many more feature in sketches, prose fragments, and draft essay manuscripts in Schenker's Nachlass (see Drabkin, 2008). But arguably the most fascinating of these unpublished items are several analytical sketches of Schubert's 'Der Doppelgänger' (Oster Collection, File A, Items 240-42), which date from July 1932. The sketches were prompted by a letter from his loyal pupil Felix-Eberhard von Cube that included a Schenkerian analysis of the song (Cube himself prepared a new analysis of 'Der Doppelgänger' in 1952, which he included in the teaching manual that he used for many years, the Lehrbuch der musikalischen Kunstgesetze).

The carefully typed out text of the song (Item A/242) is evidence of Schenker's characteristic attention to the words and a further refutation of the claim that, in his song analyses, he paid little attention to the poetry. Item A/240 appears to be an initial working out in which Schenker interprets the song as one might expect (and as it is often analysed, e.g. Samuels, 2010): a descent from ^5 (F sharp), giving structural weight to the vocal line's almost omnipresent F sharps. Yet in A/241 - which one might deduce from its polished appearance was a subsequent attempt - Schenker instead identifies a descent from ^3 (D) and highlights the relationship between the 'reaching-over' of the song's B - A sharp - D - C sharp ostinato figure and the D - C sharp - B descent of the fundamental line. Thus in this sketch Schenker demonstrates that the song exhibits a coherence beyond that which he elsewhere claimed resulted from the composing-out of Ursätze. Moreover, this sketch is of exceptional interest because - unlike his other analyses of vocal music - its reading of a descent from ^3 in the song runs contrary to the contour of the vocal melody: the vocal line's prominent F sharps are 'alienated' from the Urlinie, in a way that is musically and poetically redolent of the plight of the song's protagonist.

This entry was posted in Dissemination and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2011 Schenker Documents Online

Website by DDH