Friday, June 1, 2012

Masterpieces of Music: Franz Schubert, Part 2

Yesterday I introduced Schubert with some of the music that he was known for during his lifetime: choral music and solo piano music. Another genre that he wrote most prolifically for was the lieder or art song in German. He began writing his over six hundred lieder when he was a mere seventeen years old. Der Erlk├Ânig (the Elf-king) was written when he was eighteen. Here is my post on this song.

Schubert's larger works, such as his symphonies, were largely unknown during his lifetime. Only one full evening public performance of his music was given while he was alive, on March 26, 1828 when a quartet movement, a trio in E flat, some choral music and seven songs were performed. Most unfortunately for Schubert, Paganini chose that very week to make his Viennese debut, which quite overshadowed Schubert's concert. It is unlikely that Schubert heard even one of his symphonies performed! During his last year, when he was in very poor health, he composed, among a great deal of other music, his "Great C Major" Symphony (usually assigned the number 9). This was not performed during his life--he died in November 1828--and not published until 1840. It did not begin to receive performances until the 1850s and 60s when it inspired a whole new generation of German symphonists of whom the foremost was Johannes Brahms. Let's take a look at the first movement. Here is the whole symphony, which is nearly an hour long. The first movement is about fourteen minutes long, of which the first four minutes or so are an introduction. Have a listen just to the first movement with the score. (It will be easier if you click on the YouTube logo; then you can watch it on YouTube where you can go full screen and see the score better.)

Here is that first theme for the horns:

Click to enlarge

This is rather different from a Beethoven theme: it is leisurely rather than focused and avoids any sign of modulation. In Beethoven themes, there are often implied secondary dominants even at the very beginning. As you might expect if you read the last post on Schubert,  soon he is going to go to a remote key area and you can probably even guess which one. Yes, the flat submediant. I didn't explain what that was before, so perhaps I should now. This symphony is in C major so we can refer to the C major scale which goes C D E F G A B C. The third note above C is E, called the 'mediant' because it is midway between the tonic, C, and the dominant, G. The note that is in the other direction, A, a third below C is called the submediant. If you flatten the A, you have a flat submediant. And yes, that is where Schubert goes in this introduction, to A flat, and then returns to C major to begin the main body of the movement which is faster, an Allegro.

Since Schubert takes his time in this symphony, we will as well. I'll leave off here and continue with the Allegro tomorrow. I suggest listening to that first movement a couple of times.

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