Franz Schubert's "Du liebst mich nicht" (D. 756) has often been discussed as an extreme example of chromatic harmony, but one important possible motivator of the song's extravagance--its representation of one of the most exotic of the Orientalizing texts that Schubert set--has largely been overlooked. By considering the song and its interpretation by several recent critics, this essay suggests that the exotic is here represented not by overtly Orientalistic stylistic features, but rather by a pervasive ambiguity, which parallels the features ascribed to the Oriental in a variety of contemporary sources, including a review by Schubert's acquaintance Matthaus von Collin. Unlike such public evaluative texts, however, Schubert's song directly evokes the patterns of emotion and experience associated with the Orient rather than describing and critiquing from a critical distance. A brief consideration of the other songs of op. 59, "Dass sie hier gewesen" (D. 775), "Du bist die Ruh" (D. 776), and "Lachen und Weinen" (D. 777), reveals that "Du liebst mich nicht" opens the collection with an extreme representation of otherness from which the remaining songs gradually retreat.
- Copyright ©© 2003 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.
Selling Schubert's later masterpieces to New York's sophisticated audience is probably the least of the Y's problems. Yet a project that will depend heavily on a successful launching must rely at the beginning on the least potent of its fuel: the compositions of a boy - amazingly precocious, but still a boy.
The marketing problems are significant, and sales two weeks ago were still described as ''slow.'' But in Schubert's case, chronology is an important tool. Not until the last 50 years have we taken the trouble to find out what Schubert wrote and in what order. (Rachmaninoff in the 1920's was surprised to learn that Schubert had written one piano sonata, much less 22.) Only with this act of musicological bookkeeping did his persona begin to emerge out of a longstanding and oppressive reputation for beloved cuddliness - one fortified by a few hit tunes and goofy, sentimental biographical representations on the operetta stage (''Blossom Time'').
Schubert was famous within his circle, but was rarely a public performer. Once offered a chance to promote his ''Wanderer Fantasy'' in concert, he declined, saying it was too difficult for him. He wasted three years chasing success in opera - then the craze of Vienna. Also, his music can seem naive - until one realizes that his ''naivete'' soars beyond human complication and toward states of experience we might call supernatural. To listen to the slow movements of the B Flat Trio, the Quintet in C and the B Flat Sonata is to feel the wrenching nostalgia for a world Schubert has already left behind and a wonderment at what lies before him. Such music dignifies the vulgar expression ''out of this world.''
As with the poet William Blake, we also tend to confuse ''naive'' with ''direct.'' Take the song ''Lachen und Weinen,'' which ponders the mysteries of changing moods. When the text shifts from ''laughing'' to ''crying,'' we know that Schubert will just as abruptly move from a major key to a minor one. But it is the little phrase that follows, repeated once. ''I don't understand the whole thing myself,'' it says - a plaintive little melodic shrug of the shoulders that makes a predictable shift of mode seem suddenly profound. How does Schubert do it? Perhaps we should not ask.
The inspiration for this mammoth ''Schubertiade'' - as these concerts will be collectively known - is Mr. Prey, who has instigated a similar festival in Europe. ''I am convinced that every note Schubert wrote should be performed and that it should be performed in the order he wrote it,'' Mr. Prey said in an interview. ''Even the ups and downs - the early songs that no one can sing because Schubert did not yet know the range of the voice. Schubert sometimes wrote five songs in one day and then began a piano sonata using themes from them. It is important to show how he developed.''
The ''Klaglied'' on the Feb. 3 program, for example, is an 1812 embryo of ''Gretchen am Spinnrade,'' Schubert's first astonishing masterpiece, written two years later when he was 17. The text and themes are familiar; to be added was the descriptive ''spinning-wheel'' piano accompaniment for which the song is famous.
The Y - which is now awaiting the response of its public - has had little trouble engaging the enthusiasm of musicians. Some 60 individual performers or performing groups are involved in just these eight concerts and are reportedly accepting unusually modest fees.
The teen-age Schubert, for example, was an eager quartet writer, as the American, Tokyo, Bartok, Cleveland and Fine Arts Quartets will demonstrate. Mr. Prey and Judith Blegen, among others, will sing. Richard Goode, Andrew Rangell, Grant Johannesen, Mischa Dichter and Joseph Kalichstein are among the pianists. Three separate choruses will appear. Much of the music will be recorded.
Unlike other creative processes in which early inhibition is gradually freed by expanding technique and self-confidence, Schubert's music begins with a white heat that youth knew scarcely how to contain. His development in one sense is a strengthening of self control. Mozart and Beethoven are early models, just as his teacher Antonio Salieri influenced the first choral and operatic attempts. But there is a passionate, highly original discursiveness to such early pieces as the four-hand Fantasy in G (1810) - 20 minutes of ardor that Mr. Horowitz's program notes describe as ''the work of a child - one whose head is full of music.'' Many of the early songs are really extended dramatic scenes - ''Hagars Klage'' (17 minutes) or ''Eine Leichenfantasie'' (21 minutes). They show that Schubert's lifelong fascination with death and the gruesome, supernatural aura surrounding it are already fixed in his mind.
What this series must excite from the start is a listener involvement as much intellectual as it is musically fulfilling. Mr. Prey urges people to hear the first three concerts and then the symposium as a kind of aural map for the 10-year journey to come, which will end in 1997, the bicentenary of Schubert's birth. There is also hope that the project will become contagious in this city, inspiring among other things full-scale productions of Schubert's neglected operas.
Franz Schubert was born in 1797, his father a schoolteacher. His mother had been in domestic service. The family was musical, recognized Franz's talent but did not exploit it as the fathers of Mozart and Beethoven had done a generation earlier. One early private teacher remembered: ''If I wished to teach him anything new, he already knew it. So I really didn't teach him at all but talked with him and watched with quiet astonishment.''
Schubert's early entree to the music world - like Haydn's - was his boy-soprano voice. It won him admission to Vienna's pre-eminent school for commoners, the Kaiserlich-koenigliches Stadtkonvikt, where he eventually studied under Salieri -Mozart's rival and a major figure in Viennese music. Schubert has been accused of lacking fundamental training (perhaps because at the end of his life he solicited counterpoint lessons from a learned theorist). On the other hand, his work with Salieri seems to have been thorough (listen to the liturgical pieces on the Feb. 2 concert; anyone who doubts Schubert's grasp of counterpoint has only to note its inspired use in the ''Unfinished'' Symphony).
Schubert's apparent ''simplicity'' of style was the result of the world around him - a society in which musical performance no longer belonged to the aristocracy and had entered the homes of an upwardly mobile and increasingly cultured middle class. As Mr. Horowitz points out, Schubert's early, almost theatrical, vocal pieces evolved into a contained song-form partly out of practical reasons. These full-blown ''scena'' would not have fit comfortably into the evening entertainments that Schubert's friends eventually named ''Schubertiade.'' The songs did. Likewise the four-handed pieces in which Schubert turns a communal diversion by amateurs into high art.
Schubert's early symphonies, moreover, were written to be performed by friends, and his first flurry of quartets for an ensemble of family members. If you wonder why his Fifth Symphony has no timpani part, no clarinets, no trumpets, it's probably because at the moment of composition he had no such players at the ready. This is one of the puzzles of modern concert-hall interpreters -how to adapt Schubert's private world to our public one, how to reconcile his ''music for the occasion'' with our highly developed curatorial reverence, our relic-worship.
The ''Schubertiade'' is not just one more concert series. In a broader sense, it is a perilous and important experiment into the future of New York's concert life. It was inspired by the ''Vienna: 1900''program at the Museum of Modern Art a year and a half ago. This wildly successful series of eight concerts, played in the 550-seat hall of the Museum of Modern Art (a little more than half the size of the Y's Kaufmann Auditorium), tried something uncommon: beginning with a theme - the music of a city in a particular mood and a particular era - rather than with a performing personality.
Here the ''recital'' as a modern genre underwent a profound reversal in meaning, one hinted at earlier by such enterprises as the Mostly Mozart Festival. Most concerts start with the virtuoso performer, who in turn chooses the music. ''Vienna: 1900'' and the ''Schubertiade,'' on the other hand, begin with the program, and it is the program, so to speak, that chooses the musicians. One sells an idea, not a name - one theme with many different kinds of musicians assembled to carry it through.
Says Omus Hirshbein, who heads the Y's artistic programs, ''In my view, it's the salvation of classical music. Young people who are culturally sharp but may not know this music need a context. There are two ways of attracting this new audience. One is to blur across the line into popular music. The other is to put what you're doing into a wider context, which is what we are trying. You do this and you'll start to see people show up you never saw before. After that, it's up to the music to keep them.''
One of the ways the Y hopes to sell the problematic first year is through bigger name artists on its programs, but something the ''Schubertiade'' will not enjoy is the built-in audience of the MOMA series - which in good part saw the concerts as an important adjunct to the Schiele and Klimt painting exhibits then on display upstairs. In the present venture, there will be no such coattails on which to ride, only Schubert's music and the ''context'' in which it was written. Still, the approach will be the same -to create a framework of thought as well as sound, complete with elaborate series booklets, program notes and symposia.
A binding element in this year's series will be next Sunday's symposium featuring singers, scholars and critics. It is a ''context-creator'' - the intellectual glue that, for novitiates, can bind Schubert's early period both to his immediate predecessors and to the masterpieces to come. Among other things to be examined will be the young composer's four different settings of ''Der Jungling am Bache'' - the last two written when he was 22.
Can the ''Schubertiade'' find its audience? Mr. Hirshbein says he is committed to his approach and that there will more series like the ''Schubertiade'' - themes like Haydn or the ''Vienna: 1900'' idea transposed to other cities. For those of us who despair increasingly over the tedious seasonal repetition of familiar stars playing familiar repertory, it is a hopeful gesture. The performing arts need new ideas. This may be one of them. NINE DAYS OF SCHUBERT
Following is the schedule for the first year's programs of the 92d Street Y's 10-year Schubertiade. All begin at 8 P.M. except as noted.
Tuesday> - Fantasy in G major for Piano Duet, Hagars Klage, Minuets for Winds Nos. 1-6, Des Madchens Klage, Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Eine Kleine Trauermusik for Winds, Octet in F major for Winds, Fugue for Piano in D minor. The artists will include the pianists Misha Dichter and Joseph Kalichstein.
Wednesday> - Overture in C minor for String Quintet, Fantasy in G minor for Piano Duet, Wiener Deutsche for Piano Nos. 1-4, Leichenfantasie, Fugue for Piano in D minor, Piano Trio in B-flat major, Der Vatermorder, Der Jungling am Bache, String Quartet. The artists will include the Fine Arts Quartet and the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
Saturday> - Overture to Der Teufel als Hydraulicus, Singspiel Der Spiegelritter, Overtures in D major, Symphony No. 1. The artists will include the New York Chamber Symphony, the bass-baritone John Cheek and the baritone Hermann Prey.
Sunday, Jan. 31, 1 to 6 P.M.> - A symposium on ''Schubert and the Romantic Lied.'' Talks and performances. Joseph Horowitz is the moderator.
Tuesday, Feb. 2> - String Quartet in D major, Fantasy in C minor for Piano Duet, Salve Regina in F major, Kyries in D minor, Kyrie in F major, Kyrie in B-flat major for Chorus a cappella, Sanctus, Tantum ergo in C major, Salve Regina in B-flat major. The artists will include the Bartok String Quartet, the organist Walter Hilse and the soprano Beverly Myers.
Wednesday, Feb. 3> - String Quartet in B-flat major, Minuets and Trios for Piano Nos. 1-10, Totengraberlied, Pensa che questo istante, Zur Namesfeier meines Vaters, Minuet and Two Trios for Piano in E major, Klaglied, String Quartet in B-flat major. The artists will include the Tokyo String Quartet, the guitarist Eliot Fisk and the pianist Richard Goode.
Thursday, Feb. 4 >- String Quartets in C major and D major, Die Schatten, Unendliche Freude, Verklarung, Sehnsucht, Male Part-Songs. The artists will include the Cleveland Quartet and the Concert Chorale of New York.
Saturday, Feb. 6> - String Quartets in C major and E-flat major, Andante in C major for Piano, Wiener Deutsche for Piano Nos. 5-8, Die Advokaten, Minuets with Trios doe Piano Nos. 11-20, Misero pargoletto, Thekla, Son fra L'onde. The artists will include the American String Quartet, the soprano Judith Blegen and Hermann Prey.
Sunday, Feb. 7, 3 P.M.> - Minuet for String Quartet in D major, Two Minuets with Four Trios for Piano, Wiener Deutsche for Piano Nos. 9-12, Five Deutsche Tanze and Seven Trios and one coda for String Quartet, Five Minuets and Six Trios for String Quartet, Zur Namesfeier des Herrn Andreas Siller, Male Part-Songs. The artists will include the violinist Arnold Steinhardt and the harpist Emily Mitchell.Continue reading the main story