- Schubert's Mature Instrumental Music: A Theorist's Perspectiveby David Beach
It is always welcome when a distinguished music theorist writes a book with a wide readership in mind. This often comes with risks, however. The balance to be struck between broad appeal and intelligibility on the one hand, and resistance to dilution or oversimplification of the content on the other, is delicate. One is reminded of Richard Cohn's Audacious Euphony(Oxford, 2012) which neatly drew together some of his previous work along with some new material, and which was ambitious in its objective to reach a readership wider than academics and postgraduate music theorists. David Beach's monograph is another welcome contribution that addresses the wider challenge in music theory and analysis of achieving a broader appeal among those with a casual interest in Schubert's music as well as professional Schubert scholars.
The study is arranged in two broad parts, each comprising four chapters. Part I, 'Topics', considers four separate components that contribute to Schubert's mature instrumental style, namely harmony, phrase rhythm, motif, and sonata form. This is ambitious given the scope of the book—Part I comprises the first ninety-five pages, a space that alone could well have been filled with an extended discussion of Schubert's sonata forms—but nevertheless provides an insightful and thoughtful overview of Schubert's idiolect. A fuller engagement with work of other Schubert scholars would have been welcome here—major studies by Suzannah Clark ( Analyzing Schubert(Cambridge, 2011)), Susan Wollenberg ( Schubert's Fingerprints(London, 2011)), and David Damschroder ( Harmony in Schubert(Cambridge, 2010)) are cited in the preface, along with Julian Horton's 2014 article in Music Analysison the C major String Quintet later in the book (pp. 181–3), but a fuller engagement with theory emerging from James Hepokoski, [End Page 128]William Caplin, Janet Schmalfeldt, Steven Vande Moortele, and others, would have been a valuable addition.
Many of the author's observations are original and frequently intriguing. I am thinking in particular of the way in which Beach integrates his earlier work on the distinction between tonal design (e.g. the succession of keys within a movement) and tonal structure (the hierarchical contrapuntal process that underpins them) into a broader discussion of Schubert's style. One particularly engaging observation along these lines is detailed in chapter 4 on Schubert's approach to sonata form. The moment of recapitulation has been a favourite locus of discussion, debate, and controversy in Schubert scholarship for decades. Beach's observation is that Schubert, in a handful of cases, begins to tease apart the functions of 'design' and 'structure' even when a recapitulation is apparently launched in the tonic. In such cases (Beach suggests the first movements of the Octet, D803, the C major Quintet, D956, and the G major Quartet, D887—to which I would tentatively add the B minor 'Unfinished' Symphony, D759) the tonic return of the primary theme is treated by Schubert merely as a stepping stone on the way to the subdominant (i.e. the tonic at the start of the recapitulation functions merely as V of IV and not as a structural return).
The observation that some of Schubert's sonata forms play out through what Beach calls 'a single unifying progression' is also a compelling and welcome one (examples given include the slow movement of the B minor 'Unfinished' Symphony and the first movement of the Piano Sonata in A Minor, D537, which charts the path I–VI–IV–V–I across the whole movement). This last example raises a question regarding the book's remit as identified in its title. The notion of clearly identifying a 'mature style' in any composer's output is problematic, especially when the composer in question died at the age of 31. While the majority of the repertory under consideration emerged during the 1820s—the usual workhorses are called upon (the C major Quintet, the 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet, the B...