- Our Schubert: His Enduring Legacy
According to its author, the first part of Our Schubert: His Enduring Legacy, a section called "His Lifetime," "resists becoming a biography in the usual sense" (p. xxv). Despite this disclaimer, each of the six chapters in this section, as in most short biographies, nonetheless encapsulates the main chronological events in the brief and relatively sparsely documented life of this elusive subject before honing in on a particular topic. Thus, in the first chapter readers learn more generally about Schubert's education and musical development before Schroeder focuses on the composer's swift evolution from his early songs of lamentation to his uncanny mastery and compositional empathy at the ages of seventeen and eighteen, respectively, in the Goethe settings "Gretchen am Spinnrade" and "Erlkönig." In future chapters readers learn about the composer as a performing musician (chap. 2), an alleged political dissidence rivaling that of Shostakovich's alleged subversive rebellion (chap. 3) and the possible manifestations of this inclination in the opera Alfonso et Estrella (chap. 4), the composer's response to "Beetho ven's Long Shadow" (chap. 5), and the "Descent into Darkness" in both his life and work during his final years (chap. 6).
Our Schubert's second and slightly shorter half, "His Legacy," presents four legacies in four chapters: "Musicians," mainly Schubert's early champions, Schumann, Mendels sohn, Liszt, and Brahms; and passing attention to other composers such as Wolf and Mahler who were less prone to promote Schubert or to acknowledge their debts; "Turn-of-the-Century Vienna," in which Schroeder examines two highlights of the celebratory Schubert Bicentennial of 1897; a painting by Gustav Klimt, Schubert am Klavier; and the life and mind of Schubert devotee and aphorist, Peter Altenberg; "Writers," an exploration of novelists and playwrights who used Schubert's music thematically or symbolically, from the ridiculous (Bonnie Marson's tale of a woman who discovers her body inhabited by the composer in Sleeping with Schubert) to [End Page 118] the sublime (Ariel Dorfman's tale of torture and revenge in Death and the Maiden and Elfriede Jelinek's penetrating psychological portrait Die Klavierspielerin); and "Film," a generous sampling of the diverse ways directors from 1930 to 2001 have been inspired by and have incorporated Schu bert's music, selectively chosen from among the well over two hundred film possibilities.
The films that made Schroeder's impressive and varied short list in this final section include Luis Buñel's L'age d'Or, Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat, Stanley Kubrick's Barry Lyndon, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, Bertrand Blier's Trop belle pour toi, Christopher Hampton's Carrington, Roman Polanski's Death and the Maiden, and La pianiste, Michael Haneke's slightly retitled reworking of the Jelinek novel mentioned above. The last pair of films provides an opportunity to delve further into the adaptation process, from play to film in Death and the Maiden and from Jelinek's novel to Haneke's film. In earlier chapters Schroeder helpfully prepares readers by discussing some of the works that will be used prominently in several of these films (e.g., the second movements of the String Quintet in C Major, D. 956, in Carrington; String Quartet in D Minor, D. 810, in Trop belle pour toi; and the Piano Sonata in A Major, D. 959, again in Trop belle and La pianiste, to mention only a few).
A general observation applicable to both parts of his study is that Schroeder excels when reporting on biographical events and describing music and other media, but falls short when interpreting Schubert's life and work and his effect and influence on other artists from his time to ours. The most egregious example of unsubstantiated interpretative liberty (but by no means the only instance) undoubtedly occurs in chapter 4 ("Covert Opera"). After sensibly asserting in the introduction that "biographers too often try to fill in the gaps, making assumptions based on flimsy or manufactured evidence" (a warning issued in connection with...