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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2011

2 - ???A word will often do it???


In writing Schubert’s obituary in 1829, Johann Mayrhofer (1787–1836) noted that 19 January 1822 marked an important day for the understanding of Schubert’s songs. On that day an anonymous review of some of them appeared in the Viennese Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. The songs under scrutiny, it might be worth revealing, included settings of poetry by none other than Mayrhofer himself. Nonetheless, in all modesty, the event was important for Schubert too: this was the first extensive review devoted to his songs. It extols Schubert for his “truly expressive song,” his “rich lyrical gift” and his captivating accompaniments. These traits, of course, continue to be regarded as important to Schubert’s transformation of the German lied.

The next major piece of criticism appeared as soon as a month later, in another Viennese newspaper. This time the author signed his name: he was Friedrich von Hentl, and his review promised to be a probing discussion of all of Schubert’s songs published up to that point, namely Opp. 1–7. He too singles out Schubert’s lyricism and accompaniment for praise. According to him the vocal line is not solely responsible for carrying the expression of the words, as was primarily the case for Schubert’s predecessors. In Schubert’s songs, the accompaniment also holds a distinctive expressive force. Hentl additionally drew attention to the unique qualities of Schubert’s harmony, but he avoided discussing the mechanics of it in any detail: “Others will judge the theoretical aspect of these works and say how far justice is done to the technics of an art where no lapse may be tolerated, since definite rules exclude wilfulness.” So much for the analysis of Schubert’s harmony.

Kerman, JosephA Romantic Detail in Schubert’s Musical Quarterly 48 1962 36
Cone, Edward T.Schubert’s Promissory Note: An Exercise in Musical Hermeneutics19th-Century Music 5 1982 233