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Schubert's Reputation from His Time to Ours

Geoffrey Block
January 20, 2017

425 pp.

16 illustrations

ISBN: 978-1-57647-276-7

$62.00

Purchase on Boydell & Brewer

Description

The composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was not bereft of early advocates, from Schumann, Liszt, and Mahler to Sir George Grove. Brahms famously heralded Schubert as "the true successor to Beethoven." Nevertheless, it was not until the end of the twentieth century that Schubert's major instrumental works finally and fully emerged from Beethoven's shadow. Critics and scholars began to reinterpret Schubert's departures from Beethoven's formal and stylistic characteristics, and to see these departures not as flaws but as strengths and hallmarks of a new paradigm. Schubert's alternate constructions of "masculine subjectivities," first described by Schumann in 1838, parallel a developing appreciation for lyricism, melody, and song-traits historically regarded as feminine. Consequently, Schubert's approach is increasingly viewed as innovative and divergent rather than defective and deviant. Schubert's Reputation from His Time to Ours tells the story of how and why this has happened.

Authors

Geoffrey Block :

Reviews

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The composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) was not bereft of early advocates, from Schumann, Liszt, and Mahler to Sir George Grove. Brahms famously heralded Schubert as "the true successor to Beethoven." Nevertheless, it was not until the end of the twentieth century that Schubert's major instrumental works finally and fully emerged from Beethoven's shadow. Critics and scholars began to reinterpret Schubert's departures from Beethoven's formal and stylistic characteristics, and to see these departures not as flaws but as strengths and hallmarks of a new paradigm. Schubert's alternate constructions of "masculine subjectivities," first described by Schumann in 1838, parallel a developing appreciation for lyricism, melody, and song-traits historically regarded as feminine. Consequently, Schubert's approach is increasingly viewed as innovative and divergent rather than defective and deviant. Schubert's Reputation from His Time to Ours tells the story of how and why this has happened.

“James Sellman”
Harvard’s Colloquy



0, 0000

Top customer reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars

An Entertaining, Informative, and Thoughtful Study

By Joel Flegleron June 4, 2017

Fanfare Magazine, James V. Maiello

In 2017, putting Franz Schubert on a list of “great” composers seems a foregone conclusion. Geoffrey Block’s reception history of Schubert’s music suggests, however, that this was not always the case. To understand Block’s study or any that invokes words like “great” or “quality,” readers must accept as true the basic premises of aesthetic formalism and be aware that musicology, until the 1980s, focused heavily on issues of musical form, style, and genre, the so-called “great” composer paradigm, and so on. This underpinning affects not only the reception of Schubert’s music but also the author’s approach to some extent.

Block’s main argument is that only around 1997 did Schubert’s symphonies, chamber works, and other larger forms emerge from Beethoven’s shadow for scholars and critics. He suggests that this happened only after a critical reinterpretation of Schubert’s music that cast deviations from Beethovenian models as “strengths and hallmarks of a new paradigm.” Among the liabilities to Schubert’s reputation that Block identifies, the composer’s early death is the most convincing; he also argues that Schubert’s lyricism was at odds with the prevailing views about more serious genres, and that comments by Robert Schumann and others clouded criticism in Schubert’s own time and scholarship after his death.

In advancing this thesis, the main text of the book begins by addressing two contrasting works and their reception history, the “Great” C-Major Symphony and B♭-Major Piano Sonata. Then, he turns to Schubert’s advocates among lionized composers such as Brahms and Mahler. One of the most fascinating parts of the book examines popular perception in the early 20th century, including Schubert’s portrayal in various films. Polemics about Schubert’s sexuality were a primary thread of Schubert studies in the 1980s and 1990s, and Block provides a summary and analysis of this phenomenon. Ultimately, he concludes that the relationship between the composer’s sexuality and the reception of his music is tied to the changing public perception of homosexuality and gender. Although the criteria for inclusion in the historiographical overview that closes the book are not clear, it illustrates very well broad changes in scholarship over the long 20th century. The appendix, “The Sociology and Musicology of the Gay Question” might be more effective woven into main text’s discussion of Schubert’s sexuality; the title also seems slightly awkward. Taken as a whole, the book is effective in showing how Schubert came to be recognized as what critics and scholars might call a “first-rate” composer, though I will admit to having philosophical reservations about this kind of evaluation in general.

Overall, the basic premise of the book is convincing, the research is solid, and there is a wealth of information between its covers. The writing is engaging and clear, and Block is at his best when discussing musical style, genre, and aesthetics. Musical analyses are appropriate and well chosen. If the author sometimes risks being an overenthusiastic apologist for Schubert’s greatness, it seems that he has done so successfully: I am inspired to revisit Schubert’s earlier symphonies as soon as I finish this review. In any case, Schubert’s Reputation is entertaining reading and an informative, thoughtful study, grounded in a well-established scholarly approach.

5.0 out of 5 stars

Excellent By Amazon Custome ron April 9, 2017

This hard-to-put-down read offers fresh perspectives on the composer's often mythologized love life, thoughtful discussions of old and new arguments over whether Schubert's pieces are too long, too short, or just right, and a rich repast of memorable, carefully vetted facts about this magnetic, vastly accomplished musician who died so tragically young. Another highlight is the extended, entertaining discussion of the many stage and film dramatizations of Schubert's life and work. Block separates the wheat from the chaff in this magisterial survey of the many voices shaping Schubert's reputation. He also picks out a series of gems from the composer's vast output, including not just the justly famous songs and the now indispensable sacred music, piano works, chamber music, and symphonies, but also Schubert's still-neglected operas.

5.0 out of 5 stars

I love this book

ByH Gon April 16, 2017

I love this book. It is a fascinating portrayal of Schubert, and of Western music over almost two hundred years. So many themes and connections intersect in this book, that it serves as a fascinating nexus for a lover of classical music. If the reader pursues all the interesting leads discussed in this book, he or she cannot help but learn a tremendous amount about many of the world's greatest composers, and their music, Every page is a pleasant and interesting surprise because of the author's wide ranging knowledge, which he brings to this labor of love. Study this book, and you cannot help but become an expert on classical music, while increasing your appreciation of many great works. This is truly a wonderful book, with many rewards for the reader who immerses himself or herself in it. It reads easily and beautifully (like a novel), and is engaging. I can't recommend it highly enough.