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Music in the Nineteenth Century


CHAPTER 2 The Music Trance
Richard Taruskin

Out of this near-thousand “Deutsch numbers,” some of which actually represent groups of songs or short piano pieces (so that the total of actual compositions is well in excess of 1,000), a little over 200 were published during Schubert's lifetime, of which 134 (almost precisely two-thirds) were songs. The proportion is representative: Schubert's songs total around 630, accounting for almost precisely two-thirds of the entries in the Deutsch catalogue. The remainder of the published works breaks down as follows:

22 secular choruses, including two for mixed voices, one for female voices, and nineteen for male chorus (Männerchor);

19 groups of dances for piano (totaling 167 individual items, most of them tiny), including waltzes, Ländler (a slower version of the waltz), écossaises, Deutsche tänze (cf. Mozart's “Teitsch,” a souped-up minuet on the way to a waltz), galops (fast dances in duple time, danced in “longways sets” with couples in a line, usually the concluding number at a ball), and cotillons (a more elaborate dance performed in “squares,” which also often served as a ballroom finale);

15 publications for piano duet (four hands at one keyboard), totaling 49 individual items (mainly polonaises and marches, including the still popular Marches militaires, op. 51; but also an arrangement of one of Schubert's opera overtures, and one sonata);

7 works for piano solo, including three sonatas, the “Wanderer” Fantasy, a group of two Impromptus, a group of six Momens musicals (soon to be republished with a corrected French title as Moments musicaux), and a single waltz variation published in Diabelli's famous collection of 1824;

5 liturgical settings in Latin, including one complete Mass and a Deutsches Requiem or Trauermesse (a setting of the funeral rite in German), originally published as the work of the composer's brother Ferdinand to help him with a job application;

2 full-length chamber compositions: a string quartet in A minor, published in 1824 (with a dedication to Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the famous quartet leader) as op. 29, and a piano trio in E♭ major, published in 1828 as op. 100.

This list is very revealing of the nature of the music business at the time, and of Schubert's willingness to work within market requirements, quite belying the withdrawn image his posthumous reputation has assigned him. With few exceptions, the list is confined to utilitarian, sociable, and domestic genres—“Biedermeier” genres, as contemptuous aristocrats called them (after “Papa Biedermeier,” the proverbially obtuse paterfamilias celebrated in humorous verses and cartoons), meaning stuff that was cheap and cozy. At the time of his death, then, Schubert was no famished genius but a composer of solid, albeit largely local reputation. Within his seemingly unpretentious limits he was regarded as a beliebter Tonsetzer, a “favorite composer,” by an appreciative public, albeit a public largely unaware that behind closed doors he was vying with Beethoven as a composer of quartets and symphonies and (rather less successfully) with Rossini as a composer of operas.

That situation may have been on the point of changing at the time of his death. During his last year Schubert carried on negotiations with some northern German firms who showed a characteristically North German interest in “the highest in art” (as the composer put it),22 and his largest work to see print in his lifetime, the Trio, was published by the Leipzig firm of Probst. But as long as he was writing for the local Viennese market, he was happy to meet its demands. His dances, for example, were not Vortragsmusik (“performance music” or “music for listening”) but convivial Gebrauchsmusik (“music for active use”), dances to be danced to. The Männerchöre (“male choruses”) were written for a lucrative market that had been created by the proliferation of Viennese Männergesangvereine, men's singing clubs. These works, now among his most obscure, were the Schubert compositions most often performed in public at the time.

Piano duet playing was a convivial activity that lasted into the twentieth century, when the dissemination of sound recordings largely killed it off. Most orchestral works were published in piano four-hands arrangements to create a market for them; making them kept many hacks employed. (Schubert, however, had no access to their services, and it is quite indicative of public taste that of all his orchestral music it was the overture to the opera Alfonso and Estrella, an imitation of Rossini, that was chosen for publication in this form.) Even the large-scale works, the three piano sonatas and the two chamber pieces, were of a kind that could be enjoyed at home, whether in solitude or in company.

None of Schubert's compositions in large public media had any circulation to speak of during his lifetime. One singspiel (a farce of mistaken identity called Die Zwillingsbrüder, “The twin brothers”) made it briefly to the stage, as we have seen, in 1820. None of the other dozen stage works was ever produced until after Schubert's death (sometimes very long after: Der Spiegelritter, the earliest one, had its first production in 1949). The only tune from a Schubert opera that musicians or music lovers are likely to know today is that of a duet in the singspiel Die Freunde von Salamanka (“The friends from Salamanca”), and only because Schubert used it for a set of variations in his Octet in F major for winds and strings. (The six-movement octet, a sort of suite, was first published complete in 1889, although the variations movement had already appeared in 1853 as part of a four-movement “sonatafied” version; the opera remained unperformed until the Schubert centennial celebrations of 1928.) Nor did Schubert ever hear one of his symphonies performed in public, although (as Biba discovered) the first five, with the perhaps significant exception of the “Tragic” Fourth, were performed by a band numbering about thirty at the salons of Otto Hatwig, a wealthy amateur who led the violin section (with Schubert himself sitting among the violas). The first Schubert symphony to be published was the “Great” C-major, in 1840; the “Unfinished” had to wait until 1867.

Only one full-evening's concert of Schubert's works was ever given during his lifetime. It took place on 26 March 1828 in a small concert room owned by the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of Friends of Music), one of the city's three municipal concert bureaus, which since 1818 had been including Schubert's works in its so-called Musikalische Abendunterhaltungen (“Evening musical entertainments”). But even on this occasion the program consisted of works in domestic and sociable genres: a quartet movement, the E♭-major Trio, a Männerchor, and seven songs, most of them performed by the baritone Johann Michael Vogl (1768–1840) with the composer at the piano. The little hall was packed with friends. The composer took in a respectable “gate.” But the Italian violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), a public sensation even greater than Rossini, had picked that very week to make his Vienna debut, and garnered all the press notices.

Perhaps the best measure of Schubert's lack of affinity for the public concert stage is the fact that he never wrote a concerto, despite receiving a commission in 1818 to write one. Later on, when he had become a posthumous “classic” and good box office, Liszt made a concerto arrangement of the “Wanderer” Fantasy, Schubert's showiest piano composition. Similar salvage operations have been attempted on the two string sonatas. The one for violin and piano, in three movements without pause, is also titled Fantasie; and like the “Wanderer” Fantasy it has a slow movement based on one of Schubert's songs, Sei mir gegrüsst (“Loving greetings”). The other, now played by cellists, was composed for arpeggione, a briefly popular, soon obsolete instrument resembling a bowed guitar.

Privatizing the Public Sphere

fig. 2-5 Schubert making music with Josephine Fröhlich and Johann Michael Vogl (pencil sketch by Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, 1827).

Privatizing the Public Sphere

fig. 2-6 A “Schubertiad” (Schubert evening) at the home of Joseph von Spaun (drawing by Moritz von Schwind, 1868).

But there is little in Schubert that sustains a “concerto” mood. His works flourished best within the private circle of his friends, in the “shared solitude” of what they called “Schubertiads,” gatherings that fell somewhere between domestic get-togethers and full-fledged salons (Fig. 2-6). Nor did his larger, more public concert works (at least the later ones) compromise the mood of lyric introspection, for rendering which Schubert evolved a matchless and in some ways radically innovative technique.

Quite the contrary: through Schubert the mood of lyric introspection—of privacy—invaded and suffused the public genres. Schubert's mature sonatas and symphonies rarely strike a heroic, “Beethovenian” attitude. Notwithstanding the occasional dramatic outburst, they are discursive, ruminative, luminous works that sooner induce reverie than excitement. Their peak moments more readily suggest diffusion of rapture than dramatic climax. Their tonal/thematic closures, in particular, substitute the serene satisfactions of “crystallization, of finely adjusted machinery clicking gently into place” (as the Schubert scholar Daniel Coren once eloquently put it) for the more strenuous gratifications of victory through struggle.23

Privatizing the Public Sphere

fig. 2-7 Andante de la Symphonie en la (Andante from the Symphony in A; i.e., the second movement—actually Allegretto—from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony), by Eugène Lami (1840).

Once they achieved widespread dissemination, a process that only began in the 1840s, Schubert's sonatas, symphonies, and major chamber works enabled larger audiences than ever to experience music trances and shared solitude, and “take possession of their inwardness,” the way a group of Parisian concertgoers is shown doing in Figure 2-7, a watercolor by Eugène Lami, painted in 1840, titled Andante de la Symphonie en La—that is, the second movement (actually marked allegretto) from the A-major Symphony (no. 7) by, yes, Beethoven—but an uncharacteristically “Schubertian” movement that fits the description in the previous paragraph to a T. The last two Schubert symphonies, first performed in 1850s and 1860s, had an enormous influence on composers of the generation born between the 1820s and the 1840s (from Anton Bruckner to Antonín Dvořák), helping in this way to revive their genre, which was then (as we shall see) in temporary decline.


(22) Schubert to Bernhard Schott, 21 February 1828; Franz Schubert's Letters and Other Writings, ed. O. E. Deutch, trans.V. Savile (New York: Vienna House, 1974), p. 135.

(23) Daniel Coren, “Ambiguity in Schubert's Recapitulations,” Musical Quarterly LX (1974): 582.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 The Music Trance." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 26 Sep. 2017. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002006.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 2 The Music Trance. In Oxford University Press, Music in the Nineteenth Century. New York, USA. Retrieved 26 Sep. 2017, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002006.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 The Music Trance." In Music in the Nineteenth Century, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 26 Sep. 2017, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002006.xml