Returning Cycles: Contexts for the Interpretation of Schubert's Impromptus and Last Sonatas

By Charles Fisk | Go to book overview

Prologue
Schubert after Winterreise

I

The questions addressed in this study of Schubert's piano music originated as a performer's questions. Wanting better to understand and to deepen my sense of identification with this music while playing it, I began to search for words to describe what it held for me. While drawn to all of Schubert's mature piano music, I felt an affinity especially with the last three sonatas. I studied all three of them when I was a student, read what little I could find about them, and returned to them again and again in conversations with my friends. Even as a student I often mentioned that I felt the aura of Winterreise in these sonatas, especially in their slow movements, and that I was struck by the cyclic return of specific melodic and harmonic material within each sonata, from one movement to another. These two observations have come to seem closely related but cannot by any means be collapsed into each other. They not only help to articulate what follows but also become further articulated in the course of my narrative.

Like almost every other pianist, I played several of the impromptus before playing any of the sonatas. I found stories in them, too, especially in the tragic Impromptu in C Minor, op. 90, no. 1, with its A♭-major episode of halcyon but essentially irretrievable memory that is so difficult for most young students to bring to realization, and in the Impromptu in A♭ Major, op. 142, no. 2, which has for me always been a kind of musical refuge, a setting for an enraptured vision. Only after I realized that these pieces were composed in the same year as Winterreise, and almost certainly followed the

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