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Book Reviews

This page shows a growing number of detailed book reviews, mainly taken from The Schubertian, but some were written for this website and for prior versions of the SIUK websiteMost are for books that were fairly new at the time the review was written, but there are also some reviews of old books, especially where the book is (or was) more or less collectable. Those 'collectable' reviews originated in unashamed spacefillers when the editor of The Schubertian at the time would quickly write up a book to fill the necessary number of pages in the journal at the deadline.

Book Title
Book Author
Franz Schubert: Music and Belief
Leo Black
Katalog der Sammlung Anthony van Hoboken in der Musiksammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek
Karin Breitner (ed.)
Séance in B Minor
Tim Buck
A Day with Schubert
May Byron
Schubert and his World: A Biographical Dictionary
Peter Clive
Franz Schubert. Thematiches Verzeichnis seiner Werke
Otto Erich Deutsch
Schubert's Vienna
Raymond Erickson (ed)
Keyboard Duets from the 16th to the 20th Century for One and Two Pianos
Howard Ferguson
Life of Schubert
H. F. Frost
A Little Schubert
M B Goffstein
Schubert Twelve Moments musicaux and a novel
Peter Härtling
Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis
Deborah Hayden
Franz Schubert a Biography
Elizabeth Norman McKay
Music and Medicine, Volume 1
Dr Anton Neumayr, translated by Bruce Cooper Clarke
Schubert and the Symphony - a New Perspective
Brian Newbould
Schubert the Music and the Man
Brian Newbould
Symphony No.7 in E (D.729) in full score, realised by Brian Newbould
Brian Newbould
Schubert the Progressive: History, Performance Practice, Analysis
Brian Newbould (ed.)
Schubert-Novellen / Schubert Fantasies.
Gottfried Jolsdorf (‘Ottfried’) Translated by A. Foxton Ferguson
Die schöne Müllerin : Prachtausgabe
Eduard Hallberger, (publisher)
Der Dativ ist dem Genitiv sein Tod (The Dative is the Death of the Genitive)
Bastian Sick
Franz Schubert and his Merry Friends Curtain Calls for Franz Schubert
Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher
Franz Schubert: Man and Composer
C Whitaker-Wilson
Schubert's Poets and the Making of Lieder
Susan Youens
Schubert Müller and Die schöne Müllerin
Susan Youens
Heinrich Heine and the Lied
Susan Youens

Franz Schubert: Music and Belief



Book Details:

Leo Black

Woodbridge: The Boydell Press

1-84383-023-X. 2003. 209pp, many musical examples, index.

In the introductory chapter of this fine book, Leo Black argues that there are many non-rational elements in Schubert’s music and that the mixture of the awe-inspiring (‘tremendum’) and the sublime (‘mirum’ or ‘mirabile’) in our reaction to religious mystery ‘find parallels in Schubert’s music’. His main contention is that Schubert’s own sense of wonder is manifested not only in his sacred music, the Sanctus from the Mass in A flat (D678) being the locus classicus, but also in much of his secular music. And, to support and strengthen his case, he draws on a wide variety of Schubert’s music – from his earliest songs, instrumental music and sacred music through to the works written in his final year.

Black presents different ‘partial views’ of Schubert in Chapter 1 – first, the intuitive, carefree composer (prevalent until the centenary of his death in 1928); second, the socially disadvantaged and misunderstood composer who suffered under a ‘horribly repressive regime’ and whose life was cut short as the result of an incurable sexually transmitted disease; third, the more political left-wing perception of Schubert as a ‘man of the people’; fourth, the more sociologically inspired interpretations of his character, sexual tendencies and environment – but stresses the importance of a more rounded view, in which Schubert’s sheer ‘joy in creation’ is given its rightful place. To support his argument, he quotes from Franz Schubert and the Essence of Melody, a delightful book written by the Austrian composer and musicologist Hans Gal, who, as one of my former teachers, had a profound effect on my musical development: 

He is the only one of the great who could idealise the everyday world. Anyone who is too unimaginative to be grateful for and enjoy this aspect of Schubert’s idiom, this delight in the gift of life and its expression in the homeliest colloquial terms, lacks an essential organ of perception.

In Chapter 2 Black turns his attention to settings of the Salve Regina, the Stabat Mater D175, the German Stabat Mater D383, and the first four Mass settings, interwoven with comments on contemporary secular works – for instance, the Symphony No. 1 in D (D82), in particular its slow movement, in which Schubert, no doubt taking his cue from Mozart’s ‘Prague’ Symphony, displays an extremely original approach to development processes. The words of the Salve Regina clearly held great significance for Schubert (he composed seven settings, six in Latin and one in German, between 1812 and 1824) and Black suggests that Schubert may have ‘preferred to pray to a human mother-figure rather than a divine father-figure’. The first setting (D27, 1812) may have been written for Therese Grob, but Werner Bodendorff (in his Die kleineren Kirchenwerke Franz Schuberts, Augsburg 1997) inclines to the view that the first performance was possibly given by the Stadtkonvikt orchestra and choir, with one of Schubert’s friends, Johann Geraus, singing the solo part. Black discerns links between the second setting (D106, 1814), the contemporary Geisternähe (D100) and the slightly earlier String Quartet in E flat (D87) – a repeated-note rhythmical figure in particular – and points to further Mozartian influence in the fifth setting (D676, November 1819) as well as reminding us of its proximity in time to the song Die Götter Griechenlands (D677), the cantata Lazarus (D689) and, especially, the Mass in A flat (D678), begun in the same month although not completed until three years later. 

In his discussion of Schubert’s first four Mass settings, Black rightly suggests the influence of Haydn’s last six Masses (perhaps the ‘Nelson’ Mass above all others), as well as Beethoven’s Mass in C and his opera Fidelio, and provides many insights into Schubert’s writing for both soloists and chorus and his handling of the text (sensibly avoiding protracted discussion of the omissions, which have been subjected to close scrutiny by scholars, most recently by John Gingerich in an important article in Current Musicology, vol. 70, Fall 2000). Taking up his main theme from the introductory chapter, he cites the composer’s use of awe-inspiring (‘tremendum’) harmonies at the words ‘et iterum venturus est’ in the Credo of the F major Mass, D105 (although the superimposition of dominant upon tonic harmonies highlighted here was a fingerprint of Schubert’s style and was carried to even greater lengths in later works). He also explores the element of the sublime (‘mirum’) as he probes more deeply into Schubert’s relationships with two women: first Therese Grob (looking at the Benedictus movement in the G major Mass [D167] and a song [Das war ich, D174] which borrows material from this movement, and making an interesting comparison with Mozart’s relationship with Aloysia Weber – a ‘strong element of being in love with the voice, whether or not the actual person involved him on the same earth-shaking level’); second, and by way of a Jungian diversion, Caroline Esterházy (Schubert coming to terms with the anima part of his psyche and projecting it in much of his later music). The chapter ends with a ‘lyric intermezzo’ – a brief but enlightening discussion of Schubert’s Mayrhofer settings, including Geheimnis (D752) and another song, ‘Fels auf Felsen’ (D754) from Heliopolis, whose piano part has a close kinship with the opening of the ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy (D760).

The author reminds us in Chapter 3 that Schubert was introduced to a wide range of literature throughout his life as the result of his membership of reading circles and participation in reading evenings. In the years 1818–20 (‘Years of Reflection’) he seems to have been particularly attracted to texts which were reflective in general and reflective on ‘questions of life and death’ in particular. Works which belong in this category are his settings of Schreiber’s An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht (D614, April 1818), whose piano postlude is echoed in the second movement of the Piano Sonata in A minor, D784, Das Marienbild (D623, August 1818), Grablied für die Mutter (D616, June 1818), three Petrarch sonnets (D628–30, Nov.–Dec. 1818), and Friedrich Schlegel’s Vom Mitleiden Mariae (D632, December 1818), Die Gebüsche (D646, January 1819) and Der Wanderer (D649, February 1819). The devotional tone of the A flat major Mass and Lazarus is also foreshadowed in songs like Silbert’s Abendbilder and Himmelsfunken (D650–51, February 1819), the male-voice chorus Ruhe, schönstes Glück der Erde (D657, May 1819) and several Novalis settings, in particular Nachthymne (D687, January 1820).

This is all by way of introduction to in-depth discussions of the Mass and Lazarus. Black emphasises Schubert’s striking use of mediant key-relationships in the Mass (almost second nature to the composer by now), his distinctive employment of woodwind (often to echo vocal phrases) and brass groups in both the Mass and Lazarus, and certain family likenesses between ‘wave-like’ themes, not only in these two works but in other works, both sacred and secular, as well (Salve Regina, D677; slow movement of String Quartet in A minor, D804; Hymnus an den heiligen Geist, D948; slow movement of String Quintet in C, D956). A closer relationship between the two works can be discerned in ‘a strong sympathy of mood’ which they share. Both religious pieces ‘offer a wealth of mainly conjunct phrases in a medium tempo, most of them winding gradually down to the tonic.’ Given Schubert’s somewhat unorthodox beliefs, it is surprising that the Credo movement in the Mass should contain so many repetitions of ‘I believe’. If he departs from the Viennese Classical Mass tradition to some extent in his structural approach to this movement, it is in the Sanctus that he is at his most original, conveying the mystery of God’s holiness in music of arresting harmonic power at the outset (‘tremendum’) but moving to the joyful ‘Pleni sunt coeli’ (‘mirum’) and the almost childlike pastoral strains of ‘Osanna’. The unfinished Lazarus, however, reveals much more of Schubert’s ‘hidden, spiritual, reflective side’. Much of the music in Act 1 has a serene quality, largely the result of the distinctive instrumental colours Schubert employs. But the most striking and, indeed, forward-looking aspect of the work is the distinctive type of arioso used in the narrative sections. Black also introduces us to a particular type of melodic doubling, which he labels ‘voice doubling bass’ (abbreviated to VDB) – a subject which he has explored in greater detail in an illuminating article in Schubert durch die Brille 26 (January 2001). It is particularly arresting because it reverses the normal treble–bass polarity; instances of it can be found in Mary’s two ‘scenas’ in Act I and in over 20 other passages in Schubert’s vocal music where the prevailing theme is that of ‘submissiveness, obedience to a higher law or an inner voice’.

Black gives the title ‘Grace under Pressure; Schubert’s Conflicts between 1821 and 1824’ to Chapter 4. A wide gamut of emotions are covered in several songs composed in the early months of 1821 – Der Unglückliche (D713), with its echoes of the slow movement of the Piano Sonata in A, D664, Versunken (D715), two Marianne von Willemer settings (Suleika I, D720, and Suleika II, D717), two Goethe settings (the impressive Grenzen der Menschheit, D716, with further potent examples of VDB, and Geheimes, D719). Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (D714), also to words by Goethe, is a highly atmospheric setting of the text for male voices that is heightened by Schubert’s use of lower strings in the accompaniment. Black sees the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, D759 (Autumn 1822), as a kind of ‘creative response’ to Lazarus – ‘his attempt to make amends to himself’ – notes that both movements of the work make use of similar development processes, but is dismissive of the idea that the B minor entr’acte from Rosamunde would make a suitable Finale. In contrast to this incomplete work is the contemporary ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy, D760 (November 1822), characterised by its high degree of internal thematic interrelatedness. To the same period (end of 1822) belong several of Schubert’s greatest Goethe settings, including Der Musensohn (D764) and Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh (D768).

Then came the first stage of the illness which would lead to his premature death six years later. Black detects the musical equivalent of ‘shudders’ in the Piano Sonata in A minor, D784 (February 1823), and there are certainly many dark moments in the Finale of this work. There are also some unsettling moments in D780/6, the last of the Moments musicaux, and his setting of Schiller’s Der Pilgrim (D794; May 1823), while his setting of Wilhelm Müller’s poems in Die schöne Müllerin (D795) would appear to be not only an accurate reflection of the words but also of his own mood and condition. On the other hand, immediately preceding these works is his beautiful setting of Stolberg’s Die Mutter Erde (D788; May 1823), in which there is an unmistakable sense of resignation. All of this points to a ‘remarkable divorce’ of artistic endeavour from stark reality. Even in the dances written at the time – the 16 Deutsche and two Ecossaises, D783, and the set of 12 German Dances, D790 – there seems to be some kind of detachment from reality. Black describes the latter as ‘the crown jewels in Schubert’s output of dances’. 1824 was also a year of contrasts. Within the chamber music medium this can be detected in the remarkably varied moods, not to mention the distinctive self-quotations of song melodies, found in the Octet (D803) and the Quartets in A minor (D804) and D minor (D810).

‘Harvest’ is the main theme of Chapter 5, the principal ‘harvest’ being the Symphony in C major Symphony, D944. There is understandably some reference back to earlier works in Black’s discussion of this great work insofar as it contains ‘self-echoes’ of melodic ideas and harmonic procedures used in, for instance, the String Quartet in B flat, D112, the Symphony No. 3 in D, D200 (1815), the Gloria of the Mass in C major, D452 (1816), and the Italian Overture in D, D590 (1817), as well as reference to other compositions which had obviously made a deep impression on Schubert, e.g. Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, frequently performed in Vienna from 1799 onwards, his D minor (‘Nelson’) Mass, which Schubert conducted at the Alt-Lerchenfeld church in Vienna in 1820 as a replacement for his unfinished Lazarus, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Black provides (on pages 142–3) both a ‘symphonic order’ and a ‘chronological order’ of quotations (including self-quotations) that he has identified in the ‘Great’ C major and, in both cases, adds, with a nod to the Swedish scholar Klaes-Göran Jernhake’s hermeneutic approach to the symphony, his own liturgically/biblically-inspired narrative ‘plot’ or ‘flight of ideas’ – a kind of corrective to the notion that the symphony is a ‘hymn to nature’. Earlier in the chapter, however, he has illuminating things to say about the strong impression made on Schubert by the magnificent scenery he encountered during his 1825 tour, which clearly influenced contemporary and subsequent works, and draws parallels with the ‘wild virgin grandeur’ depicted in the novels of the American writer Fenimore Cooper (read by Schubert in German translation) and the mountain landscapes of the German painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Other works referred to include the earlier Symphony No. 6 (D589), the composer’s second setting of Goethe’s An den Mond (D296; 1819?) and the less frequently performed Auf der Riesenkoppe (D611; 1818). Contemporary 1825–6 pieces either mentioned en passant or discussed in more detail are the Piano Sonatas in C (D840), A minor (D845), D (D850) and G (D894), the Rondo in B minor for violin and piano (D895), various songs – Des Sängers Habe (D832), Der blinde Knabe (D833), the three Lady of the Lake settings (D837–9), Totengräbers Heimweh (D842), Das Heimweh (D851), Die Allmacht (D852), Auf der Brücke (D853), Fülle der Liebe (D854), Delphine D857/1, Florio (D857/2), Abendlied für die Entfernte (D856), Wiegenlied (D867), Das Zügenglöcklein (D871), So lasst mich scheinen (D877/3) and Im Freien (D880) – and Nachthelle (D892) for tenor, male voices and piano. Black once again reveals his close knowledge of these works and his discerning ear in tracing connections between the unfinished C major Sonata (‘Reliquie’), the D major Sonata, the two Pyrker settings Das Heimweh and Die Allmacht and, not least, the C major Symphony.

Between Chapters 5 and 6 comes a ‘Tragic Intermezzo: Hard Sayings’. Works or movements discussed by Black, most of them in the last two or three years of Schubert’s life, include the Overture to Fierrabras (D796), the Overture in E minor D648 (1819), the Entr’acte in B minor from music for Rosamunde, the String Quartet in G, D887, the Schwanengesang cycle (D957), the slow movement of the incomplete D major symphony, D936a, the Fantasy in F minor for piano duet, D940, the Trio and Finale from the String Quintet, D956, and the slow movement of the Piano Sonata in A, D959. All contain arresting ‘dark moments’ of harmonic dissonance, modal uncertainty or feverish rhythmical energy, albeit tinged with transfigured moments of ‘gentle, subdued light’.

The bulk of Chapter 6 is devoted to a fascinating discussion of the Mass in E flat major (a work also scrutinised in some detail, albeit in a different context, by Michael Graubart in a recent two-part article on Schubert – ‘Themes and motives’ – in The Musical Times, Autumn and Winter 2003). Other works considered include Das stille Lied (D916), a male-voice part-song, Hymnus an den Heiligen Geist (D948) for male-voice quartet and choir, Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe (settings of different texts for mixed-voice chorus with wind band accompaniment and for voice and piano respectively, D954 and D955), Der Doppelgänger (D957/13), the new Benedictus (D961) for the C major Mass, Tantum ergo, D962, and Intende voci, D963. There is an excellent comparison with the A flat major Mass, the predominant lyricism of the latter being set against the glimpses of ‘spiritual darkness, doubt and fear’ in the E flat Mass – qualities also reflected in the other vocal and instrumental music of Schubert’s final year. In this chapter, as in the others, Black makes many telling cross-references to other works – Schubert’s own music and the music of composers he had heard and imbibed. His earlier setting of Schiller’s Thekla, D595 (composed in 1817 but published as op. 88 no. 2 in 1827), is a surprising choice for ‘self-quotation’ but Black makes a good case for Schubert’s allusion to it in the ‘Domine Deus’ section of the Gloria. He mentions the two re-statements of the opening material at the words ‘Adoramus te, Benedicimus te’ in the Gloria and makes perceptive comments about Schubert’s ‘typical harmonic subtlety’. In the second passage, however, the move from F back to F is via D minor, not D major. While there is no direct thematic connection (as there often is) between the ‘Dona nobis’ of the Agnus Dei and the opening Kyrie eleison, the two movements have extended pedal points in common, of which the most poignantly beautiful is the 12-bar dominant pedal with superimposed F minor and G minor harmonies towards the end of the final Kyrie. Black introduces his discussion of the 1828 setting of the Tantum ergo text, D962, with some comments on one of the earlier settings of the same text, D460. Although he refers to this incorrectly as Schubert’s ‘first’ Tantum ergo (in spite of its higher Deutsch number, the Tantum ergo D739/op. 45, composed in 1814, was the first to be written), this by no means negates his main argument, convincingly made, that both settings display strong Mozartian influence.

As a postscript (‘The Complete Voice – Screaming into the Twentieth Century’), Black embarks on further discussion of the ‘partial understanding’ of Schubert mentioned in Chapter 1. Fortunately, the necessary corrective to the former tendency to patronise Schubert has been supplied by commentators like Adorno, Schnebel, Keller and more recent scholar-musicians. He argues persuasively that Schubert had the ‘power to convey to his fellow-humans an intuition of something higher and better’ – intimations of joy, wonder and the numinous.

Radio 3 listeners may have heard Leo Black in conversation with Donald Macleod tracing the influence of Schubert’s religious nature on his music in a series of five programmes in January (‘Composer of the Week: Schubert - Music and Belief’). We look forward to the opportunity of hearing him at the Schubert Day in London on 11 September. No doubt there will be further revelations which will prompt us to consider afresh and re-assess the importance of Schubert’s religious nature.

Crawford Howie, 2004

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