Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Susan Wollenberg, Schubert's Fingerprints: Studies in the Instrumental Works (Ashgate, 2011)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Susan Wollenberg, Schubert's Fingerprints: Studies in the Instrumental Works (Ashgate, 2011)

Article excerpt

[1] Susan Wollenberg points out that, in 1988, Elmar Budde posed the following question about Schubert's music: "Where, aside from all beauty, lies the compositional essence? The question remains mostly unanswered" (9). Budde himself went on to preserve the unanswered state of that question by reasserting a common belief that Schubert's music was primarily to be enjoyed, not understood: "One enjoys the beauty . . . why should one wish to understand what one enjoys?" (quoted by Wollenberg on page 9). By contrast, Wollenberg seeks to answer Budde's initial question and proposes that Schubert's compositional essence lies in eight "fingerprints," each of which makes up a chapter in the book. As Wollenberg herself explains (9), the fingerprints she discusses are all familiar to Schubert scholars; the ambition of her book is to bring them all together in the first book-length study of them. Despite the emphasis on the instrumental music suggested by the title of her book, it turns out that knowledge of Schubert's song technique is crucial to understanding this compositional essence, for a running thread in Wollenberg's argument is that if, as it were, we dust for prints, the hand that controls the fingerprints in the instrumental music belongs to Schubert the song writer.

[2] After an introductory chapter, the first three chapters are structured as if they unfold in sonata form. Chapter 2 ("'His Favourite Device': Schubert's Major-Minor Usage and its Nuances") explores Schubert's characteristic use of major-minor mixture, a fingerprint that often surfaces at the beginning of Schubert's works and opens up tonal space, introducing chromaticism that is explored later in a movement or work. She begins with a look back at Eric Blom's (1928) study of Schubert's "favourite device," where he observed that it was used in the songs as a means of expressing binary oppositions or mixed emotions. Through copious use of examples from the sonata-form repertoire and beyond, Wollenberg concludes that Robert Winter's epithet about the songs-"Along with Brahms, [Schubert] ranks as the greatest major-minor colourist in Western music"-must surely also apply to the instrumental music (quoted on page 46). …

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