Author Topic: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work  (Read 2039 times)

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Lilas Pastia

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The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« on: October 04, 2012, 02:16:16 PM »
Surprise! No nomination. Inspired by some reactions to the other 'essence of' threads I started, I decided not to commit the sacrilege of pigeonholing one of the holiest of composers  :D

However, feel free to propose (and hopefully discuss) a work you feel represents Schubert best. I suspect this will prove very difficult and will provide a great diversity of answers.

CaughtintheGaze

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2012, 02:18:30 PM »
D. 959

Lilas Pastia

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2012, 02:24:21 PM »
D. 959

This is an excellent choice.  One can probably come up with half a dozen possible solutions. I do feel though that it's mission impossible to narrow the choice down to just one. That in itself is a tribute to the greatness of Schubert. I do have a candidate, though.

Offline Brian

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2012, 02:28:28 PM »
Perhaps I'm prejudiced toward one of my very favorites, but I wish to submit the string quintet D956. I'm thinking in particular of three character traits:

(a) the way Schubert attempts to reconcile his compact melodic genius with his ambition to write something bigger. The piece contains some of his most breathtaking melodies - especially the one in the first movement, which I think the most beautiful melody he wrote though there are so many to choose from, treated like a self-contained miniature lied, almost! - but they are built into an enormous edifice, the kind of grand-scale work he started writing very prolifically as he reached maturation (late sonatas, C major symphony).
(b) the attempt to solve the "finale problem." His "Little" and "Great" symphonies have very eccentric finales, I think, and the two he built for D956 and D960 are very similar in that, from an emotional standpoint, they seem (<-note word choice) circumspect and detached from the emotional core of the piece. But in D956 he solves the problem very neatly, and the final three chords, so weirdly jagging from triumph to terror, summarize in a single second my third point -
(c) the violent juxtaposition of opposite emotions. Also something you see in the song cycles and the last symphony's slow movement, among other places. The thing that fascinates me about Schubert, and about this work especially, is the close quarters sublimity keeps with raw, naked anguish. Besides the final chords, the two inner movements are most important here, especially the scherzo, which brings elation and the deepest, most melancholic sense of loss. It's a paradox, and I think Schubert is full of such paradoxes, such abrupt and confrontational exclamations: "look here: I feel this way, and that way, and perhaps you think no human is capable of feeling both, and yet I feel these things simultaneously."
« Last Edit: October 04, 2012, 02:31:59 PM by Brian »

Offline Sammy

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2012, 02:31:02 PM »
I love much of Schubert's music, but I've never felt I had a decent handle on his essence (except for repetition).  So I'll pass, although D. 959 is my favorite Schubert work.

Offline TheGSMoeller

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2012, 02:55:20 PM »
SQ no.15 D887

DavidW

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2012, 03:28:22 PM »
Lieder, chamber music, piano, masses, symphonies... all have a different feel.

CaughtintheGaze

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2012, 03:32:19 PM »
Lieder, chamber music, piano, masses, symphonies... all have a different feel.

Thanks for the contribution.

Lilas Pastia

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2012, 07:08:03 PM »
Perhaps I'm prejudiced toward one of my very favorites, but I wish to submit the string quintet D956. I'm thinking in particular of three character traits:

(a) the way Schubert attempts to reconcile his compact melodic genius with his ambition to write something bigger. The piece contains some of his most breathtaking melodies - especially the one in the first movement, which I think the most beautiful melody he wrote though there are so many to choose from, treated like a self-contained miniature lied, almost! - but they are built into an enormous edifice, the kind of grand-scale work he started writing very prolifically as he reached maturation (late sonatas, C major symphony).
(b) the attempt to solve the "finale problem." His "Little" and "Great" symphonies have very eccentric finales, I think, and the two he built for D956 and D960 are very similar in that, from an emotional standpoint, they seem (<-note word choice) circumspect and detached from the emotional core of the piece. But in D956 he solves the problem very neatly, and the final three chords, so weirdly jagging from triumph to terror, summarize in a single second my third point -
(c) the violent juxtaposition of opposite emotions. Also something you see in the song cycles and the last symphony's slow movement, among other places. The thing that fascinates me about Schubert, and about this work especially, is the close quarters sublimity keeps with raw, naked anguish. Besides the final chords, the two inner movements are most important here, especially the scherzo, which brings elation and the deepest, most melancholic sense of loss. It's a paradox, and I think Schubert is full of such paradoxes, such abrupt and confrontational exclamations: "look here: I feel this way, and that way, and perhaps you think no human is capable of feeling both, and yet I feel these things simultaneously."

Brian, thanks for this superb post. You vindicate what was my idea behind this (and the other threads): what is it that you think makes this composer great/sublime/unique, and can you ascribe these traits or qualities to a single work? By getting such detailed personal analysis, we can all benefit from each other's unique opinion on a composer that everybody considers great, but who also competes with dozens of other great minds.

I've already mentioned a few times something that I read when I was a teenager and that has stuck with me for almost 40 years: the sculptor/artist/goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini held that a work of art must be viewed from eight different angles, each one offering a perfect perspective. Well, you get the idea: a work of art is more than the sum of its parts, and yet each part must give you a valid POV on the whole.

I emphasize again that I don't intend to find THE greatest work, the most representative, the best entry or best whatever to the composer in question. It is true that a single work cannot encapsulate ALL that makes a composer great (I honestly think that is impossible to define in some cases, like Mozart, Haydn and JS Bach. in the case of Schubert and Beethoven we can always try ;D.

Back to Schubert: I hesitated between chamber, vocal, instrumental and orchestral. I quickly decided that orchestral Schubert, however much I like it, is no the best way to get the essence of the composer. Some of these works are uneven, others are like the child who becomes an adolescent in a matter of weeks: no clothes or shoes can contain his suddenly bigger, elongated self. He has outgrown everything he used to wear. For that same reason I also decided against any 'low' Deutsche number - say, under D.800.

Vocal: lieder, masses, operas? The latter are not well known and it's possible they're not really very good. Single lieder? Can a short voice and piano work tell me more than the rest of his huge output? I can say yes in just one instance: Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (Shepherd on the Rock). It has been and will always be THE Schubert short work I love above any other. I never tire of hearing the introductory 'once upon a time' piano declamation, the 'stretching out of noonday slumber' clarinet succulent, self-satisfactory, Cherubino-like aria, and the radiant, innocently erotic Ode to spring from the soprano. And the joyous, happy homecoming of the trio in the allegro last section. What joy, what innocence and relish of life!

Instrumental: piano of course. In this case there are a few works that singly (sonatas) or as a mini-corpus (the grouped opus something works such as the Impromptus, Moments Musicaux or 'Klavierstücke) could be thought of. As Caughtinthegaze suggested, D.959 is an obvious choice. Possibly the most sublime emotionally, concise structurally and perfectly 'composed' pianistically of any Schubert work. It's a bit like looking at a chain of mountains in the Appalachians: the summits are different yet similar, look about the same height, are seen from the same distance and yet, one of them seems to tower above the others, not by virtue of sheer altitude, but its shape, height and mass just give it more presence. A very subjective impression, but it lingers and imposes itself to the conscience. To some that impression is left by D.960, to others by D. 894.

Chamber: again, obvious candidates are not exactly thin on the ground. Brian's choice of D.956 is so brilliantly argued and deeply felt that I find it hard not to concur. To me the Quintet is such an himalayan peak that it sheer mass and girth make it harder than many to grasp and absorb (if one can ever grasp and absorb that masterpiece's full musical greatness). The trios, the quartets in A and D minor: possibly.

In the end my choice will seem almost a cheat: no longer chamber, not yet orchestral: the Octet in F, D.803. It is built in the olden form of the classical serenade or divertimento. In 6 movements, each having its own character, with no particular attempt to create or even simulate a classical structure. Yet each section tails off the preceding while offering a contrast of textures and timbres, a different rythmic feel. Melody reigns. In some works Schubert strained very hard at (and achieved !) a kind of moto perpetuo, rythmic and harmonic screws turned up one notch every 30 seconds (finales of symphonies 2, 4 and 9, quartet D. 810 or sonata 19 being cases in point). Nothing of the sort in the Octet. And yet the variety of writing never gives up. There is no sameness (remember Benvenuto Cellini !), no ennui, never does the work seem to linger (Schumann famously spoke of Schubert's 'divine lengths', a notion that could be applied to the Quintet, the last sonata, the 9th symphony, Winterreise or the Octet). 

The Octet combines the formidable structural girth of the Quintet, the gemütlich melodic easiness of Der Hirtl auf dem Felsen, the dogged, pensive mien of the last sonata, the somber, minor key feelings of the last three sonatas and in the end, the triumph of good humour and the joy of basking in a sea of melodies of the 'Rosamunde' quartet.

True, the Octet is through and through a major mode composition, while so many of Schubert's greatest utterances are either in a minor mode, or explore the nether reaches of the harmonic world. Only Beethoven in his post op. 100 works would explore such uneasy realms. This composition belongs to the handful of 'free form' works that hark back to the concept of the Suite, Partita, Divertimento or Serenade, all of which are 'old' forms, whereas its harmonic language bespeaks of a new, liberated aesthetic, with an emphasis on expressing and releasing feelings. Schubert often alternated between 'feelings' ( as in Der Hirt or the Octet) and raw emotions (Die schöne Müllerin, the A major sonata, the D minor quartet). I don't think one can come to Schubert and  choose. You have to take it all first, live with it for a few years and then settle in your own schubertian nest.

Offline Dancing Divertimentian

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2012, 07:37:39 PM »
This is actually an easy choice for me. I'm not sure I could say it about any other composer, though.

But Schubert's "essence" can be found in microcosm in the emotionally brimming Wanderer Fantasy. You get the serenity of the outer sections - the lyrical side - which flank and ultimately insulate the heart of the piece - the central neurotic maze of extrovert emotionalism. Which, after the carnage, begs the listener to sort it all out. Good luck! ;D


Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach

Offline mszczuj

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #10 on: October 05, 2012, 02:47:15 AM »
D.957 No.4.

Lilas Pastia

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #11 on: October 05, 2012, 08:31:21 AM »
D.957 No.4.


 It's a very fine choice, but it would be nice to hear why you chose it  ;).

Offline mszczuj

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2012, 03:48:32 PM »

 It's a very fine choice, but it would be nice to hear why you chose it  ;).

Well, always when I listen to it I think that the very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work.

Offline mszczuj

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2012, 04:16:11 PM »
Of course I mean that the very essence of Schubert can be found in the text of THIS work. As to the music it is just the best melody ever. What a pity it is so popular that we have no chance to hear it with the fresh ear. How good it is so popular that almost everybody had a chance to hear it.

Other nominated works were:
String Quintet
Trio op,100
String quartet D minor
Der Leiermann
Der Hirt auf dem Felsen
Die Schoene Muellerin

Offline springrite

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2012, 05:19:41 PM »
Winterreise

His songs are still my favorites among his works. I like some of the others but not nearly as much. A song writer in multiple disguises.
Do what I must do, and let what must happen happen.

Offline Luke

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #15 on: October 06, 2012, 12:44:55 AM »
My choice would be the G major string quartet, which I think is utterly peerless amongst his works. I don't have time to write a detailed description as to why I feel that way, but I would say that Brian's list of reasons for choosing the String Quintet actually cover a large number of my reasons for choosing the Quartet very well. When he talks about the Schubertian finale problem, I actually feel that the G major Quartet is one of the few major works where the finale is not a problem (though for a long time I felt that it was, and only became reconciled to it as my understanding of the rest of the piece grew).

There is something utterly magnificent about this whole work, its awesome, Brucknerian scale and scope, its fundamental (again Brucknerian) clarity of line and gradual progression (the major-minor dichotomy explored more thoroughly, all-pervasively and imaginatively thn anywhere else in his music, becoming a defining structural and emotional principle). It is a also a work of a beauty so intense and delicately-poised that it is almost disturbing, especially in the first two movements. Schubert is at his finest and most Schubertian, it sometimes seems to me, when he simply giving us a perfect melody line, so perfect that we gasp and hope it will not fail, like watching a tightrope walker and hoping he makes it across, and when underneath this a simple but tense accompaniment watches on at the melodic feats being enacted above. This is the case in countless songs, in the slow movement of the E flat piano trio, copiously in the string quintet, at many points in the sonatas (I am thinking of the F sharp minor slow movement of the last A major sonata), at the opening of the A minor quartet, the opening of the F minor Fantasy and so on and on. But this uniquely Schubertian mix of fraught tension and poised beauty is nowhere more present than in this last quartet, it seems to me, and that is why I'd nominate it as the piece in which the composer's essence can best be found.

Seems I time to write a little more than I thought I would!

Lilas Pastia

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #16 on: October 06, 2012, 07:12:41 AM »
Thanks guys for taking the time to detail your feelings toward the music you chose. Luke, your post is priceless!

This is exactly the kind of discussion I aimed at generating. It's not a poll, not a 'best of' list, but an invitation to discuss and describe how the music chosen can be thought to encompass most of what you think is the essence of the composer. Of course it's an elusive pursuit, and the actual work that does represent a composer's essence is a fiction of the mind. That's why all choices are equally valid!

Offline Opus106

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Re: The very essence of Schubert can be found in THIS work
« Reply #17 on: October 06, 2012, 07:36:53 AM »
This is exactly the kind of discussion I aimed at generating. It's not a poll, not a 'best of' list, but an invitation to discuss and describe how the music chosen can be thought to encompass most of what you think is the essence of the composer. Of course it's an elusive pursuit, and the actual work that does represent a composer's essence is a fiction of the mind.

Remind me never to let you go missing again. You, sir, are my GMG hero!
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