Donald Francis Tovey once wrote, I thought famously, that “Every work Schubert left us is an early work” (Essays in Musical Analysis I: Symphonies (i) [London: Oxford University Press, 1935], 203). In the first sentence of the first essay in Rethinking Schubert, “Is There a Late Style in Schubert’s Oeuvre?,” Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen paraphrases Tovey’s observation but credits “the beautiful bon mot from the art historian Herman Grimm’s classic work, which is still worth reading [albeit published in 1872], about the Renaissance artist Raffaelo Santi, who died young” (p. 17). In a later essay, however, a lengthy footnote in Cameron Gardner’s “(Re-)Theorising Schubert’s ‘Reliquie,’ ” (p. 168, n. 5) manages to overlook Tovey’s precocious pronouncement in 1927 that the first movement of the unfinished Sonata in C Major, D. 840, was one of only two “flawless” Schubertian movements, indeed “the most subtle thing he ever wrote” (Tovey, “Franz Schubert,” in The Heritage of Music, vol. 1 [London: Oxford University Press, 1927], 112; reprinted in The Main Stream of Music [New York: Oxford University Press, 1949], 125–26). The editors do correctly attribute another Tovey bon mot (the one about Schubert’s harmonic “purple patches”) to its rightful author, thus demonstrating that this once well-known writer is not totally forgotten (p. 2).
Rethinking Schubert arrives as the outgrowth of a conference held in Dublin in 2011 on Schubert’s late style, a concept that may seem counterintuitive for a composer who died at the age of thirty-one. The five essays (out of twenty-three) that comprise the first section, “Style,” continue this pervasive theme featured in another recent collection of essays, Schubert’s Late Music: History, Theory, Style (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), which is dedicated to Susan Youens and co-edited by Lorraine Byrne Bodley and Julian Horton. The phrase late style in connection with Schubert may seem to warrant so-called “scare” or “air” quotes, but Benjamin Binder’s and Robert Giarusso’s essays in Rethinking Schubert and Bodley’s introduction to Schubert’s Late Music offer worthwhile arguments for readers eager to consider why we might take this idea seriously. The second part of Rethinking Schubert is devoted to “Instrumental Music” (seven essays); the third and final part to “Music and Text” (eleven essays).
Most of the essays, but especially those in the second and third parts, focus on one or two works, often from a collectively varied but individually particular analytical topic or perspective (in order of appearance): “Schubert fingerprints” (Susan Wollenberg); “the sensuous as a constructive force” (Brian Black); “narrative dislocations” (Xavier Hascher); “musical causality” (Julian Caskel); the tonic “6-phase chord” (David Damschroder); “melancholy” (Leon Plantinga); “axial lyric space” as opposed to “axial tonal space” (Michael Spitzer); “a [End Page 276] neo-Riemannian lens” (Suzannah Clark); “contextual processes” (James William Sobaskie); “coherence and fragmentation” (Deborah Stein); “dissociation and declamation” (David Ferris), and “disability” (Binder). Taking a more historical approach, Andrea Lindmayr-Bandl discusses “the circumstances and arguments that created and built the extraordinary fame of the ‘Unfinished’ and to uncover the events that kept rumours alive for more than a century” (p. 112), particularly evident in the 1958 German film version of Das Dreimäderlhaus. As with many excellent collections, the quality varies and some essays contain infelicities. Still, each essay contributes something valuable to our understanding of Schubert.
As Bodley states in the acknowledgements, Rethinking Schubert is distinguished for combining “detailed technical analyses with more general scholarly issues of Schubert reception” with “leading German-language and francophone Schubert research in an English language volume of essays” (p. xi). The volume is also rich in musical examples and analytical charts. With some exceptions, the collection’s basic premise constitutes less a rethinking of how we might view Schubert than a confirmation of current thinking along the lines espoused in Suzannah Clark’s Analyzing Schubert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012) in which Schubert is recognized as a co-equal but divergent paradigm...