First draft of the MT review of Essays on Schubert, by Maurice J.E. Brown



(Essays on Schubert, by Maurice J. E. Brown, Macmillan 50/-)


First draft of the MT review (April 1966); previously unpublished © the estate of eric sams



Argument: that the Schubertian should stick to his last; but that once this is put first Mr. Brown may be put first among our Schubert scholars.


Of these 14 Essays on Schubert 12 are entirely new. So it seems at first sight surprising that they are not entirely consistent. The explanation is that unless they are, precisely, on Schubert they are vaguely off-target. The occasional snapshot on general aesthetics can hardly be called all bulls (pp. 60, 77, 102 etc). There are even misfires. Thus, on pp 29-30 we are warned against the practice of finding brief melodic resemblances, except in the same composer, and "even then more is called for than the simple juxtaposition of extracts." After this solemn admonition the simple juxtaposition of extracts from Schubert (Exx 58, 59) seems a shade inconsequent, and the comparison of the falling seventh from Schubert with one from Wagner positively wilful (Ex 68, 69). We are also informed, with no hint of irony, that Donald Tovey was inconsistent in this matter; he condemned the practice, but "if it suited his purpose he quoted any pair of resemblances that he had noted." Equally perplexing is the decision (p. 268) to count any variant of a song as a separate song if it has been separately published; an argument that lands five Trouts must surely have a catch in it, even if there is no question of an actual gaffe. Again, the lists beginning on p. 272 are there said to contain "little that is new or that cannot be found in Deutsch or Nottebohm", while these same lists are among those said in the preface (p. xi) to "supplement and amplify Deutsch to a considerable extent." Here we are again in good company however; it will be seen from inter alia pp. 130-1 and 257 that even the good Deutsch nodded; and not just on opinions but on fact as well.

   In this latter respect Mr. Brown is not to be caught napping. On the contrary; the danger is that his readers may. Thus, after some 400 words on which piano trio was played at what performance even the keenest of us are feeling comfortably relaxed. Here and elsewhere we may have rather than the excitement and provocation promised by the publishers the impression of prescribed hagiology for closed Schubertians.

   Happily such moments are rare. But it seems clear that it is not the author's present intention to make converts, as it was so engagingly and effectively in the critical biography. This time the greatest indebtedness and warmest thanks go to the Trustees of the British Museum.

   Some readers may prefer Mr. Brown in partibus infidelieum. On the other hand there is much to be said for preaching to the converted, which is really a very convenient and practical arrangement. This book then is for Schubertians of any order.

   Once within the Schubertian realm all difficulties disappear. New heights of tolerance are reached; for example Mr. Brown feels able to say hat the addition of a spurious prelude to a Schubert song "would be a forgivable interference"; a remarkable indulgence.

   And if there are different viewpoints of varying widths, the vision is of Schubert, and it is steadfast; if the detail should seem more striking to Mr. Brown than to others, that is because he stands nearer. In so far therefore as this book relates to specialist knowledge it is unrivalled in English, and take an assured place in musical scholarship.

   Here are some of the positive achievement. First, the material unassumingly styled "Towards an edition of the sonatas" is already a long way past any existing edition, not forgetting the Gesamtausgabe. The work on the dance music, and on the Sehnsuchtswalzer in particular is equally impressive in its way. The essay on the posthumous publication of the songs will be found outstandingly valuable – and not only for the Schubert specialist. Thus, it confirms that most of the songs noted as influencing the Schumann of 1840 were published by Diabelli in Vienna and available to Schumann on his visit there in 1838/39 (though in so far as such influences were inferred from brief melodic resemblances, in violation of Rule One, this result is arguable due to coincidence). Then there is some excellent iconography – pencil portraits of Schubert and pen-pictures of Schubertians. The essay on the Kärntnerthor Theater is a most useful supplement to the meager literature on the neglected stage works.

   In the section on the music as such an outstanding contribution aims at the raising of Lazarus in our estimation. Of course this cantata was never dead; 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 part-songs, still in need of resurrection.  

   We hear less about the music that is a living reality; perhaps it has less need of Mr. Brown's services. Still, the essays on the sketches for the Unfinished and the F minor Fantasia are full of interest.  So too is the study of the genesis of the C major, though it seems to stop short of revelations apart from the fascinating one that Tovey's famous quotation of the 'schoolmasterly little fugue' is "pure invention" on his part.

   The general omission of comment on the inward expressive nature of the music means, we hope, that it is reserved for a later volume. It is clear from the occasional perceptive reference to the musical language of Schubert song, the typical melodic expression of mystery (p. 53), of joy in nature (p. 76) of sleep (p. 115) and that motive and emotive connection between "Winterreise" and the C major (pp. 38-40 et seq.) that here too is a realm in which Mr. Brown is vey much at home. It would be a kindness to invite others there as well. They, and he, could count on a good reception. It appears from the book's cover that Mr. Brown is the head of one of our school departments of science, and from the contents that he is our head of one of the world’s department of art.