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

By Charles Fisk | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
Schubert's Last “Wanderer”
The Sonata in B♭Major, D. 960

I

In the Andante sostenuto of the B♭-major Sonata, the sudden, quiet turn to C major in the last section is a transfixing moment. After an A-major middle section that recalls the first movement both thematically and texturally, the somber C♯ -minor theme of this slow movement returns (ex. 9.1a, mm. 90ff.). The ostinato has derived a new rhythmic figure and a new sense of urgency from the accompanimental sixteenths of the middle section. The chords that cling closely to the slow, almost unadorned melody still impart to it their quiet intensity, while the new ostinato continues to create a sense of an open, empty space into which the melody resonates as a lonely, searching song. For thirteen measures the theme stays the same, melodically and harmonically, as it was the first time. Then, suddenly, instead of moving to its relative major, E, as it did before, it shifts to C major (m. 103). The music is held in C, in what feels like a revelatory stilling of motion, for eight measures. The melody of this new turn to C differs only slightly but nevertheless crucially from the E-major melody whose place it takes. The G♯, which before was held over from the C♯ -minor semicadence as 3 of E, now slips down to G, 5^ of C, and the melody becomes 5^, 8^–7^–6^, 6^–6^–5^, 4^–3^–1^. In the context of this C♯ -minor song, what is revealed through this C-major phrase may still seem remote and mysterious. But it will return later as something real and close at hand: it will become the jubilant second theme of the finale (ex. 9.1b).

The C♯ minor of this movement is, of course, the “Wanderer” key, and

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