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

By Charles Fisk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Wanderer's Tracks

The “Wanderer” Fantasy sets itself apart from most of Schubert's instrumental music not only because of its unusual form and virtuosic character but also because of the place it occupies in his compositional career. At the time of its composition, late in 1822, he had not completed a large-scale instrumental piece in three years. He turned to it, as already mentioned, from his work on the “Unfinished” Symphony, which he had brought closer to completion than any other instrumental work in several movements since the “Trout” Quintet and the Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 664, of 1819. 1 In the intervening three years he had occupied himself primarily with dramatic music, but without much public success.

We shall probably never know why Schubert began to return his primary focus to instrumental music at the end of 1822. This return coincides, at least approximately, with the onset of his syphilitic infection. It also comes only a few months after the writing of “Mein Traum. ” In the prologue I have discussed the story's themes of alienation and banishment, reconciliation and salvation. These themes correspond aptly with the expressive range of both the symphony and the fantasy. We shall probably never know if Schubert had recognized the signs of his illness by October or November of 1822. If he had, the expressive range of these two pieces might reflect his need to return from texts by others to the text of himself, to collect and strengthen himself in the face of mortal danger. Such speculation aside, we can fairly regard the fantasy as the first completed large-scale instrumental work of Schubert's ma-

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