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

By Charles Fisk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Retelling the “Unfinished”

In the Andante con moto of the “Unfinished” Symphony only a thread of sound connects the first thematic group to the second (ex. 4.1, mm. 60–63). This thread—a pianissimo G♯ in the first violins, left sounding when the other instruments fall silent—may be the Andante's barest moment. It is the very stillness of this transition, its seeming incorporeality, that imbues it with dramatic tension. Suddenly without harmonic or textural support, the line becomes expectant and searching: it steals its way into darkness. The violins begin to draw a melodic gesture from this pitch by taking it up an octave. They then pass down, still pianissimo, through a C♯-minor triad. When they reach the C♯ itself, they are joined by the second violins and violas in a syncopated ostinato recalling a very similar pattern from the first movement. The ostinato has originated in that movement as the accompaniment for the second theme, and it is first introduced there, as here, by a single sustained pitch (see ex. 4.4, mm. 38–41). But later that ostinato has come again, at a moment of dramatic crisis in the first movement's development, when the music is wrenched from B minor into C♯ minor (see ex.4.5, mm. 146ff.) to reintroduce it without the theme it is meant to accompany. It is this return, specifically, that the transition in the Andante now recalls.

In the Andante, the G♯ of the transition emerges, in unanticipated shadow, from the final E-major chord of the first group. In the Allegro moderato, by contrast, the turn to C♯ minor marks the climax of the first stage of the

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