Schubert: A Classicist and a Romanticist?

  • Arnold Feil

Abstract

On the bicentenary of the birth of Franz Schubert we are faced also with the question of his place in the seemingly so self-evidently known panorama of musical history. Certainly all truly great artists and their works defy a straightforward classification into pidgeon-holes - and Schubert in particular so. This is largely due to the fact that Schubert sees himself in the succession to Beethoven and in his compositional work sets himself in the grand tradition of Western polyphony while on the other hand he keeps at the core of his creativity a kind of music, which otherwise belongs to the original inventory of musical genres but was in the history of polyphonic composition always on the edge and reached into the centre of musical interest not until the changes occurring in the musical thinking of the 18th century. As for Schubert's interest in different genres, he is with his lied inclined towards musical Romanticism, but as regards his compositional interest towards the Classicists of Vienna. When he creates lyrics as musical texture, he is led by general ideas closer to those of the Viennese Classicists than of the Romanticists, contemporary or subsequent ones. This is the reason why Schubert should be placed closer into the vicinity of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven than into the vicinity of Romantic composers of lied, among whom he certainly also belongs. When asking ourselves with which works and in what way he is inclined more to Romanticism, we first think of the larger part of his songs, specifically those where the text, the singing voice, and the piano part do not create a polyphonic movement and the melody evoked by the text is accompanied by simple harmonies no matter how vividly executed on the piano. With an equal degree of certainty like the no small number of his songs no single one of Schubert's piano compositions can be claimed to be a Romantic one, for in none of them is present the same Romantic will for self-expression as found in the piano compositions of his contemporaries V.J. Tomášek or J. V. Vořišek or in the compositions of his immediate successors, it is self-understood that Schubert's stage works belong into the history of the Romantic opera, as for them the decisive ideas about the theatrical music and the theatre stem - like with its predecessor Gluck - from the musical early Romanticism of the 18th century and it is these ideas that to a large extent determine the conception of the 19th century opera.

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Published
1997-12-01
How to Cite
FeilA. (1997). Schubert: A Classicist and a Romanticist?. Musicological Annual, 33(1), 57-63. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.33.1.57-63
Section
Articles