Catalogue of the Vienna City Library Exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of Schubert's death
Musicology remains an expensive hobby. And this is surely disastrous for musical studies, which like all other disciplines demand a background of accredited fact, not adventitious rumour. So in principle this publication deserves the warmest welcome and the widest dissemination. Its 300 clearly reproduced illustrations amplify the sound and effect of music by bringing the composer closer. The master's hand, with all its assured fluency in sketching, painstaking thoughtfulness in amendment and active delight in finished achievement, is brought within everyone's grasp. Here, to arouse general interest and enthusiasm, is a do-it-yourself home musicology kit comprising nearly 100 musical autographs; 40 facsimile pages of first editions; 125 pictures of the composer, his domestic and social circle, his mentors and patrons, his surroundings and belongings; and 100 personal documents including school reports and other critiques as well as letters to and from friends.
Unfortunately the copybook has been blotted by pettiness. Thus the many references to Otto Erich Deutsch (of all people) are gratuitously niggardly and nitpicking, often (e.g. pp. 107, 111, 180, 211, 221) without much justification in sound scholarship, let alone good manners. This sourness seems to have spilled into, and spoiled, the editorial treatment of the English versions of Deutsch sources, which are in, frequently quoted; and the result goes far to vitiate the entire English half of the bilingual commentary. First, the Eric Blom translation of the Documents (1946), though adjudged “unsatisfactory” has been used unchanged, on the curious ground that it has “acquired a certain traditional acceptance”. This is one way of guaranteeing that the English excerpts from the Documents will be unsatisfactory; and so they are (e.g. the inept verses on pp. 50, 57). There is a second way of ensuring dissatisfaction. The English translation of the Memoirs (1958) has been rejected altogether, in favour of a new version which, in the passages I compared, is manifestly and markedly inferior. Take for example Leopold von Sonnleithner's famous description of Schubert's facial expression, “in ruhigem Zustand eher stumpf als geistreich”, or, as the Memoirs text has it, “in repose ... dull rather than vivacious”. The specially commissioned new version omits “in repose” altogether, and just says flatly “more obtuse than intellectual” - which arguably describes the translation's features rather than Schubert's. In many other respects the English half of the text is substandard. At least this provides some further incentive for acquiring the necessary knowledge of German, lf only the editors had adopted the sensible approach at the Leipzig publishers of the comparable Schumann iconography (1964) and produced one volume in each language; that could have halved the cost and, given proper translation, doubled the value.
The Musical Times, Apr. 1979 (p. 305-306) © the estate of eric sams