Saturday, June 2, 2012

Masterpieces of Music: Franz Schubert, Part 3

In the last post I started on the "Great C Major" Symphony and only got as far as the introduction to the first movement. In this performance, that section takes about 4:20. The rest of the movement takes another ten minutes. Here is the performance again, with the score so you can follow along:

The themes in the symphony are quite simple. Apart from the opening horn theme I quoted yesterday there are only a few different themes:

Click to enlarge

Following the score while listening you might think that there are zillions of different themes, but there really aren't. Everything in the score is pretty much rhythmic figuration outlining harmonies--which is what the strings are doing most of the time, or moving scalewise to an important harmony, or based on the themes I've shown above. The rhythmic figurations are largely developed from the theme at the end of the first line of my example, with the repeated notes. The other themes, like the first one for strings, are themselves mostly outlining harmonies. Same for the last theme I show. The movement has a nice rhythmic flow, carefully calibrated with the harmony, but it is really all about the harmony. That's why the themes are so simple: their real function is to be harmonic. Where Schubert shines is in the modulations to remote areas like, as I have mentioned, the flat submediant, A flat. But another thing to notice is that his tonics can be either major or minor. C minor appears and so does G minor and they seem to have nearly equal status with their major versions. This is how Schubert has expanded the harmonic palette: minor can substitute for major and vice versa. He also does a lot with chords, like diminished sevenths and augmented sixths, that can have different resolutions. So, a larger harmonic space. But notice also what Schubert does not bother with: counterpoint. There is virtually none of the kind of imitative counterpoint we nearly always find in Beethoven. A lot has been simplified to allow the harmony to have full rein. Also, ironically for a song-writer like Schubert, the melody has been drastically simplified as well. The most hummable tune is the one in the horns in the introduction. This returns, with full orchestra, to end the movement. Go have another listen and see what I mean.

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