Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music

Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music

Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music

Debussy and the Veil of Tonality: Essays on His Music

Excerpt

Considering that the effective scope of Franz Schubert's career was less than fifteen years in duration, that his musical impact in life was limited primarily to one city, that most of his work was unpublished at his death in 1828, and, finally, that his music was ignored by almost every pedagogical author in the nineteenth century, it may seem a bit akin to the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack to devote an entire book to the historically-informed performance of his music. It would be easier to expand things a bit, to discuss the performance of Viennese music in general from the beginning of the nineteenth century (for which there exists ample documentation), concentrating, perhaps, on Beethoven, Schubert, and others of importance.

Franz Schubert's Vienna, however, although often viewed historically in the same sweep with, say, Ludwig van Beethoven's Vienna, was not the same place. The cultural and commercial atmosphere had changed significantly as a result of the financial ravages of the Napoleonic wars and the monarchy's heavy-handed control. As Schubert's career began (about the same time as the opening of the Vienna Congress in 1815), Beethoven and others already had seen the final years of noble patronage. Schubert was able to cultivate only limited contact with the great houses; his most influential friends were of the so-called "ennobled working class" who occupied minor government positions. His two short periods of direct employment under the nobility were not as a composer, but as a piano teacher to the Esterházy children.

Popular music history has always held that it was not in Schubert's character to master Vienna in the same aggressive way as had Beethoven and other temporarily fashionable composers (indeed even Beethoven in his distempered way became fashionable for a while). Some scholars now maintain that at the time of Schubert's death he was on the verge of a career breakthrough, and not just as a composer of lieder. In the most recent major biography of the composer, Brian Newbould speculates that Schubert "would surely have fused Classical and Romantic elements in the symphony even more powerfully than he had in the 'Unfinished' and 'Great,' looking ahead to the synthesis achieved by Brahms a generation later…" Although composers do not consciously "look ahead" in time—even those who, like Beethoven, created works that severely taxed the existing

Schubert: The Music and the Man (University of California Press: 1997): 388. The image of Franz
Schubert as a progressive composer also has been explored and strengthened by studies such as those
offered by the International Franz Schubert Institute: Franz Schubert – Der Fortschrittliche?: Analysen–

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