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Music in the Nineteenth Century


CHAPTER 2 The Music Trance
Richard Taruskin

The key of the second movement, Andante con moto, bears an unusual but thoroughly Schubertian relation to that of the first: it is cast in the subdominant of the parallel major, projecting the concept of modal mixture from the level of local harmonization to that of “macrostructure,” the relationships that give coherence to the whole multimovement sequence. Where the first movement had been a study in submediant relations, the second admits a much wider spectrum of third-relations to its purview. In part this is because its form is more loosely sectional, less “teleological,” than that of the first. Rather than a goal-directed sonata design, organized around a single overriding progress to closure, the movement is put together very much like the slow movement of Mozart's E♭-major Symphony, K. 543, which could very well have been its model: a slow rondo (or, alternatively, a slow minuet or Ländler with two trios) in which both episodes are based on the same melodic material but contrast radically in key, both with the framing sections and with each other.

Even if we ignore for the moment the many strongly colored “local” harmonies that attract our ear (beginning with the unconventionally “inverted” German sixth in measure 14 whose many recurrences will be a major point of reference) and take note only of chords that are “tonicized” by cadences and so contribute to the articulation of the movement's form, we encounter an amazingly diverse and wide-ranging assortment, beginning with the brief excursion from the tonic E to the “parallel mediant” G (the mediant of the parallel minor, tonicized in m. 22) and back, which defines the shape of the opening section.

The first episode (beginning with the four-bar unharmonized preface at m. 60)starts out in that Schubertian rarity, the ordinary diatonic submediant or relative minor. Remaining true to our plan and ignoring the beautifully executed (but cadentially unconfirmed) excursion to the parallel mediant (F major) at m. 74, we arrive at a mode switch at m. 83, immediately followed by the enharmonic recasting of C♯ major as D♭. (Note that we have had cadences by now on three members of a cycle of minor thirds encircling the tonic: E major, G major “above”, D♭ major “below.”) Parenthetically we might note that the clarinet and flute exchange that takes place during this excursion into D♭ major (mm. 90–95) removes any doubt that we are dealing here with a Ländler, an adapted (and locally Viennese) ballroom dance—that is, a Mozartean device updated by a composer who, unlike Mozart, “speaks Viennese like any other Viennese” (in the words of the poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben).27

A return to C♯ minor provides a pivot to the submediant, A, at m. 109, suitably equipped with what sounds like an augmented sixth, just as, knowing Schubert, one might expect. But the chord is spelled as a dominant seventh, with G-natural instead of F, and so it resolves, into a remarkable “flat side” circle of fifths that touches down on D, the Neapolitan (m. 111); G, the parallel mediant of the original key (m. 121); and finally C, the parallel or “flat” submediant (m. 129), preparing the retransition to E major for the medial return of the “rondo” theme.

The section that now begins (m. 142) is identical to the first section as far as m. 186, where it is suddenly rerouted to the subdominant to prepare for the second episode, which begins (m. 201) in the parallel subdominant, A minor, soon to be replaced by A major at m. 223. This key may be unremarkable with respect to the original tonic; but compared with its counterpart in the first episode, it is in the magical flat submediant key. At m. 244 the parallel tonic is briefly sounded as a pivot to the same “flat side” excursion along the circle of fifths as we heard in the first episode, only this time it moves much more quickly than before, because it is zeroing in on the original tonic from C, the original flat submediant (m. 250), to F, the Neapolitan (m. 252), which makes its conventional resolution to the dominant, and thence home.

The final section is not a full recapitulation or rondo frame; rather it is a coda based on the original thematic material, with some enharmonic interplay between diatonic and chromaticized mediants that is at once witty and touching. First G♯ minor (III) is emphasized by an ordinary dominant embellishment (mm. 270–271, repeated in 277–278), then the four-bar violin preface is extended by an extra pair of measures that takes it (where else?) to C, the flat submediant, which then pivots ear-tinglingly to its flat submediant, A♭ (m. 286), completing a cycle of major thirds, perhaps the earliest one in all of Schubert to have been explicitly enunciated in direct succession. And finally, in another characteristically Schubertian move, the violin preface, now adapted to the key of A♭ major, is converted at the end to the parallel minor, by replacing the expected C with a C♭. This is an especially disorienting move, since it involves an unaccompanied arpeggio (mm. 292–295) that describes an augmented octave. But of course it is also an especially strategic move, since that disorienting C♭, reinterpreted enharmonically, turns out to be the original dominant. Its resolution secures the final closure (Ex. 2-17).

This quick return from seemingly remote parts once again resonates with Mozart; one famous example is slow movement of his G-major Piano Concerto, K. 453, which has been given contradictory interpretations. Some have interpreted the distance as real, in which case the pleasing artifice by which it is so quickly traversed seems an ingratiating mask worn by violence; others have interpreted the distance as illusory, in which case the harmonic sleight-of-hand comes off as irony. The former interpretation casts the music as tragic, the latter as comic.

Constructions of IdentityConstructions of Identity

ex. 2-17 Franz Schubert, Symphony no. 8 (“Unfinished”), II, mm. 280-300

The interpretation of Schubert's harmony is beset with similar differences of opinion; but the stakes have seemed greater with him, and the disagreements have been more heated. Perhaps that is because his music, constructing a more emphatically private and personal space than Mozart's, claims a greater personal investment from listeners. That would certainly be in keeping with romantic ideals, and to that extent, perhaps, the controversy has been a measure of Schubert's artistic success. But the grounds of Schubertian contention have been no more confined (or confinable) to artistic matters than in the case of Mozart. With Mozart, aesthetic debate is connected with social issues. With Schubert, again very much in the spirit of romanticism, it is connected with issues of personal identity.

The latest controversy began with what scholars call “external” evidence—the interpretation of facts about Schubert's life, not the interpretation of his scores. In 1989 Maynard Solomon, a highly respected biographer of Beethoven and Mozart, published an article in which he interpreted certain passages in diaries and letters, both Schubert's and those of his friends, as coded references to the composer's participation in what Solomon called the “male homosexual subculture” of the Austrian capital.28

Solomon's most compelling piece of evidence was a diary entry in which one of Schubert's friends wrote that Schubert, being “out of sorts,” is in need of “young peacocks, like Benvenuto Cellini.” (Cellini, the great sixteenth-century sculptor and goldsmith, used references to game birds in his autobiography as a euphemism for the young boys he pursued for erotic purposes.) Later, a younger scholar, Kristina Muxfeldt, noted that among the song texts Schubert had set were poems by Count August von Platen, in the style of Persian love lyrics known as ghazals, that were full of transparent references to homosexual love. Schubert's settings of these poems, she observed, were unusually intense in harmony, even for him.29

These readings and findings, while original and unwontedly specific, were not really news. Schubert's venereal disease, which may have hastened his death, had long since led to speculations concerning what one writer, as early as 1857, called passions mauvaises, “evil passions.”30 The judgment implied by the word mauvais reflected the moral standards of 1857, well into the Victorian age, when sexual roles, as observed in the previous chapter, were hardening. The judgment also obviously partook of the mythology of the poète maudit, equally anachronistic for Schubert. In Schubert's time imputation of homosexual tastes or activities carried less stigma than they did at midcentury (here, many would contend, our own time is in agreement with Schubert's), and were less bound up with issues of identity (but here our time differs profoundly from his). In any case, it is doubtful whether these matters would have excited as much controversy as they have, had some critics not begun to find corroborating “internal” evidence—that is, evidence in “the music itself.”

Those who believed they had found such evidence claimed to locate it precisely in the novel harmonic and tonal relationships that we have been investigating, the very aspects of Schubert's style that historians have prized as his signal contribution to the art of music, and on which many music lovers have founded their special sense of intimacy with the composer. In an essay entitled “Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert's Music,” Susan McClary, a versatile and imaginative scholar, made a direct connection between Schubert's special genius for musically representing the romantic “I” and his alleged homoerotic leanings. Where Solomon's prize exhibit had been a journal entry and Muxfeldt's had been a song text, McClary's was the second movement of the “Unfinished” Symphony, the composition we have just surveyed.

McClary interprets the freewheeling mediant relationships and sleight-of-hand modulations that we have been tracing as analogous (or more exactly, homologous) to promiscuous personal relationships. Mediants are to fifths, she argues, as gay is to straight—in both cases (to simplify a bit) what is represented is pleasurable deviance from a socially mandated norm. “On some level,” she writes, “centered key identity almost ceases to matter, as Schubert frames chromatic mutation and wandering as sensually gratifying.” In Schubert's “enharmonic and oblique modulations,” as McClary interprets them, “identities are easily shed, exchanged, fused, and reestablished, as in the magical pivot between E and A♭ major near the end.”31 Finally, pursuing homologies between her description of Schubert's musical behavior and recent descriptions of gay male behavior, she quotes a literary critic who, while employing a nearly impenetrable professional jargon, seems to be making a similar point about the pleasures of promiscuity: “Subjectivity within male coupling is episodic, cognized and recognized as stroboscopic fluctuations of intense (yet dislocated, asymmetrical, decentered) awareness of self-as-other and self-for-other.”32

Whether this argument holds up depends primarily on how much evidentiary weight an analogy can be made to bear. (Analogies and homologies are partial similarities that have been singled out for the purpose of comparison. If the motivating premise is embraced a priori, as it is here, an analogical argument becomes dangerously liable to the trap of circularity.) But the controversy in which this argument participates is little concerned with the fine points of rhetoric. Rather, it has served as a diagnostic of contemporary attitudes toward sexual deviance. Those made uneasy by the thought of it have been quick to label the argument as an “assault” on Schubert, as one scholar has put it,33 or an attempt to appropriate his name and reputation on behalf of a political agenda.34

What all sides to the debate agree upon, however, is that profound and possibly “subterranean” matters of personal identity are at stake, and that Schubert's music has the power of representing them. The very thought was a product of Schubert's time. Except in a few late works, not even Beethoven is so interpreted by anyone, but Schubert is so interpreted by everyone. That is the continuing triumph of romanticism.


(27) Deutsch, ed., Schubert: Memoirs by His Friends, p. 285; quoted in The Cambridge Companion to Schubert, ed. Christopher H. Gibbs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 37.

(28) Maynard Solomon, “Franz Schubert and the Peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini,” Ninteenth-Century Music XII (1988–9): 193–206.

(29) See Kristina Muxfeldt, “Schubert, Platen, and the Myth of Narcissus,” JAMS XLIX (1996): 480–527.

(30) Alexandre Oulibicheff, Beethoven: Ses critiques et ses glossateurs (Leipzig, 1857); quoted in Maynard Solomon, “Franz Schubert and the Peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini,” 19th-Century Music XII (1988–89): 193.

(31) Susan McClary, “Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert's Music,” in Queering the Pitch: The New Lesbian and Gay Musicology, eds. P. Brett, E. Wood, and G. Thomas (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 223.

(32) Earl Jackson, Jr., “Scandalous Subjects: Robert Glück's Embodied Narratives,” quoted in McClary, “Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert's Music,” p. 224.

(33) Susan Kagan, Fanfare XIX, No. 2 (November/December 1995), p. 362.

(34) See V. Kofi Agawu, “Schubert's Sexuality: A Prescription for Analysis?” Nineteenth-Century Music XVII (1993–94): 79–82.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 2 The Music Trance." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 18 Oct. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002011.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 18 Oct. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002011.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 18 Oct. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume3/actrade-9780195384833-div1-002011.xml