Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Lorraine Byrne Bodley and Julian Horton, Eds. Rethinking Schubert (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Academic journal article Music Theory Online

Review of Lorraine Byrne Bodley and Julian Horton, Eds. Rethinking Schubert (Oxford University Press, 2016)

Article excerpt

[1] In the last two decades, Schubert has come to occupy a central position in Anglo-American and European music theory and musicology.(1) That the composer should find himself in such a position may seem unsurprising to future historians of theory; after all, many of the recent shifts in academic musical discourse—the interest in sexuality and identity studies, the emergence of neo-Riemannian theory, and the revival of Formenlehre—would seem to have created the ideal soil for renewed interest in him to take root.

[2] And yet, the figure of Schubert is not at the “center” of some monolithic discursive field. Indeed, the very notion of centrality belies a vast array of diverse approaches to Schubert scholarship. There have been new theories, analyses, and interpretations of his works; updated biographies; histories of his political milieu and social circle; studies of his relationships and sexuality; renewed attention to documentary sources; examinations of his working habits; emphases on neglected repertoire; and more. As Lorraine Byrne Bodley and Julian Horton write in their introduction to Rethinking Schubert (RS), “the contemporary Schubert is vibrant, plural, transnational and complex” (10).

[3] Nowhere is the vibrancy of the current figure of Schubert more clearly on display than in Byrne Bodley and Horton’s recent tome, whose twenty-three essays reflect the fertile diversity of contemporary Schubert studies even as they promise to bear nourishing fruit. There is no question that, through subjecting “recurring issues in historical, biographical, and analytical research to renewed scrutiny,” RS does indeed “yield new insights into Schubert, his music, his influence and his legacy, and broaden the interpretative context for the music of his final years” (3).

[4] But the book is also representative of Schubert studies in that the level of engagement is uneven. To continue the metaphor: in this compendium-cum-arboretum, some essay-plants grow to majestic (and magisterial) heights, while others suffer from various ailments. Some are undernourished; more often, overgrown foliage renders their crowns opaque, permitting no light to shine through. Below, I discuss RS’s genesis and structure, give a brief account of some of its chapters, and offer a few words of critique.

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Example 1. Rethinking Schubert, Table of Contents

[5] RS has its origin in an international conference that took place at Maynooth University in October 2011. The conference, entitled “Thanatos as Muse? Schubert and Concepts of Late Style,” has proven fecund; its 66 papers have yielded no fewer than four print volumes, one of them a 20-chapter companion volume published by Cambridge University Press.(2) The 23 papers included in RS were selected by Byrne Bodley and Horton with two goals in mind: to “integrate very detailed technical analyses with more general scholarly issues of Schubert reception,” and to “include leading German-language and francophone Schubert research in an English-language volume of essays” (xi).(3)RS’s table of contents is given in Example 1.

[6] Three areas in particular are given special attention: “matters of style, the analysis of harmony and instrumental form, and text setting” (3). “Each of these fields,” the editors write, has “received fresh stimulus in recent years through the development of new hermeneutic and theoretical approaches and the discovery of fresh source materials.” RS seeks primarily “both to affirm and to extend these developments through a thematic exploration of Schubert’s compositional style (in Part I) and [through addressing] issues in tonal strategy and form in Schubert’s instrumental and vocal music (in Parts II and III)” (3).

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[7] Part I of RS is devoted to the challenging question of whether one can “speak of late style for a composer who died at the age of thirty-one” (4). …

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