Essays on Schubert by Maurice J. E. Brown*
Essays on Schubert by Maurice J. E. Brown. Macmillan*
Maurice Brown’s essays are certainly required reading. They are in three sections: the music; the composer; manuscripts and editions. I found this last section particularly valuable. The material unassumingly styled “towards an Edition of the Pianoforte Sonatas” is already long past any existing edition, including the Gesamtausgabe. The ordering of the dance-music into chronological sequence is equally impressive in its way. The essay on the posthumous publication of Schubert's songs is of outstanding interest – and not only for the Schubert specialist. Thus it provides fascinating confirmation that most of the songs that can he heard as influencing Schumann’s song writing in 1840 were published by Diabelli in Vienna and available to Schumann during his visit there. The section on the composer contains some excellent iconography pencil portraits of Schubert are discussed, and pen-pictures of Schubertians delineated with skill and clarity. In addition the essay on the Kärntnerthor Theater is a most useful supplement to the meagre literature on the neglected stage works.
In the section on the music, an outstanding contribution aims at the raising of Lazarus in our estimation. Of course this unfinished cantata of 1820, much admired by Brahms and duly published in full score in the Gesamtausgabe, was never wholly defunct; but to have found it still alive after all these years of neglect and malnutrition is a great wonder. A revival would no doubt be too much to hope for, but even survival is something. The same office is performed for the partsongs, also in need of resurrection. We hear less about the music that remains a living reality. Still, the essays on the sketches of the Unfinished and the F minor Fantasia op 103 are full of interest. So too is the study of the genesis of the great C major, which even goes as far as revelations. Thus it seems that Schubert’s original penning of the opening horn theme was an exact counterpart of what Tovey calls its apotheosis at the end of the first movement. Again, it is fascinating to learn that Tovey’s famous quotation of the “schoolmasterly little fugue” is “pure invention” on his part, and to read that (despite not only Tovey but others, eg Arthur Hutchings and Mosco Carner) there is “no hint in Schubert’s autograph of any fugal treatment”.
Of the inward expressive nature of the music we hear least of all. This means, we hope, that the topic is reserved for a future volume. It is clear from the perceptive references to Schubert’s musical language – eg his typical melodic expression of mystery (p. 53), or joy in nature (p. 76), of sleep (p. 115), and the motive and emotive connections between Winterreise and the C major (p. 38) – that here too is a topic in which Mr Brown is very much at home.
He seems to me to he rather less comfortable in his wider premises. Thus, on p. 29-30 we are sternly warned against the practice of finding brief melodic resemblances, except in the same composer, and even then “more is called far than the simple juxtaposition of extracts”. After this, the simple juxtaposition of extracts at Exx 58, 59 seems a shade inconsequent, and the comparison of one falling seventh from Schubert with one from Wagner at 68, 69 positively wilful. Again, it seems over-indulgent to call the addition of a spurious prelude to a Schubert song “a forgivable interference” on the ground that “a song must have a prelude” (p. 275). Equally perplexing is the decision (p. 268) to “count any variant as a separate song, if it has been published as such”. A line of argument that lands five trouts must surely have a catch in it somewhere.
However, there is never any question of an actual gaffe. On matters of fact within the Schubertian realm Mr Brown is not to he caught napping. One’s fear is rather that some of his readers may. Thus, after some 400 words on which piano trio was played on what occasion even the keenest of us are feeling a little relaxed. Here and elsewhere we may get the impression not merely of required reading but of prescribed hagiology for the private-study periods of closed Schubertians. But such moments are rare; and of course the details are bound to scent clearer and more striking to Mr Brown than to others, because he stands that much nearer. And if there are different viewpoints of varying widths, the vision is of Schubert, and it is steadfast.
There is proverbial guidance as to what the Schubertian, of all people, should stick to; but in so far as his last is put first, Mr Brown’s book takes an assured place in musical scholarship.
The Musical Times, Apr. 1966 (p. 314) © the estate of eric sams
*See also the unpublished first draft of the review to M. Brown's book