Hostname: page-component-7dc689bd49-6c8t5 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-20T14:30:06.594Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

A Gift to Goethe: The Aesthetics of the Intermediate Dominant in Schubert’s Music and Early Nineteenth-Century Theoretical Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 April 2016

Suzannah Clark*
Harvard University Email:


Schubert is famous for his remote modulations, especially his third relations. He therefore has a reputation for harbouring an aversion to the dominant, both in terms of its function as a harmonic preparation for new keys and as a structural pole to the tonic home key. I turn to the history of theory to reveal a more nuanced history of Schubert’s attitude towards the dominant. In a revision of ‘Geistes-Gruß’ (D. 142), a song he sent to Goethe in 1816, Schubert added a brief dominant-seventh chord to soften an abrupt modulation to a remote key. Such an insertion between remote keys was coined an ‘intermediate dominant’ by Schubert’s contemporary Anton Reicha and was understood to be a sufficient preparation for a new remote key. In four subsequent versions of ‘Geistes-Gruß’, Schubert strengthened, rather than weakened, this intermediate dominant – only to remove it altogether in the final published version. I scrutinize Schubert’s use of intermediate dominants that, together with other techniques such as the use of silence, act as a harmonic cushion between abrupt third relations in a range of early multi-sectional songs and in the medial caesura-fill in the Unfinished and Great Symphonies. I compare Schubert’s compositional strategies with the theories of modulation and harmonic juxtaposition by his contemporary music theorists Anton Reicha and Gottfried Weber, and I argue that they share a strikingly similar aesthetic of the power of the intermediate dominant.

Research Article
© Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 A collection of settings of Goethe’s poetry was sent to Goethe in 1816, with a letter of introduction written by Schubert’s friend, Joseph von Spaun; see Erich Deutsch, Otto,ed., Schubert: Die Dokumente seines Lebens (Wiesbaden, Leipzig, Paris: Breitkopf & Härtel, 1996): 4041 Google Scholar. On Goethe’s musicality, see Byrne, Lorraine, Schubert’s Goethe Settings (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003)Google Scholar and Bodley, Lorraine Byrne, ed., Goethe and Zelter: Musical Dialogues (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009): 128 Google Scholar.

2 The literature on this topic is vast; the following laid important foundations in Schubert studies: Denny, Thomas, ‘Directional Tonality in Schubert’s Lieder’, in Franz Schubert–Der Forschrittliche? Analysen–Persektiven–Fakten, ed. Erich Wolfgang Partsch (Tutzing: Hans Schneider, 1989): 3753 Google Scholar; Krebs, Harald, ‘Alternatives to Monotonality in Early Nineteenth-Century Music’, Journal of Music Theory 25 (1981): 116 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Third Relation and Dominant in Late 18 th - and Early 19 th -Century Music, 2 vols (PhD diss., Yale University, 1980); ‘Some Early Examples of Tonal Pairing: Schubert’s “Meeres Stille” and “Der Wanderer”’, in The Second Practice of Nineteenth-Century Tonality, ed. William Kinderman and Harald Krebs (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1996): 18–33; ‘The Background Level in Some Tonally Deviating Works of Franz Schubert’, In Theory Only 8/8 (1985): 5–18; ‘Tonart und Text in Schuberts Liedern mit abweichenden Schlüssen’, Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 47 (1990): 264–71; ‘Wandern und Heimkehr: Zentrifugale und Zentripetale Tendenzen in Schuberts Frühen Liedern’, Musiktheorie 13 (1998): 111–22.

3 See especially Bailey, Robert, ‘The Structure of the Ring and its Evolution’, 19th-Century Music 1 (1977–78): 4861 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 See, for example, Kramer, Lawrence, Franz Schubert: Sexuality, Subjectivity, Song (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)Google Scholar, Hirsch, Marjorie Wing, Schubert’s Dramatic Lieder (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)Google Scholar, Maier, Gunter, Die Lieder Johann Rudolf Zumsteegs und ihr Verhältnis zu Schubert (Göppingen: Kümmerle, 1971)Google Scholar, and Clark, Suzannah, Analyzing Schubert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Denny and Krebs (see n. 2) model some of the ways Schubert’s modulates from the opening to the closing tonic in the songs, but there is no study specifically devoted to this fascinating topic. By contrast, the transitions in Schubert’s instrumental music, particularly in the sonata forms, have received considerable attention. See especially Hinrichsen, Hans-Joachim, Untersuchen zur Entwicklung der Sonatenform in der Instrumentalmusik Franz Schuberts (Tutzing, Hans Schneider, 1994), 5159 Google Scholar and Wollenberg, Susan, ‘Schubert’s Transitions’, in Schubert Studies, ed. Brian Newbould (Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998): 1661 Google Scholar, ‘Schubert’s Poetic Transitions’, in Le style instrumental de Schubert: Sources, analyse, evolution, ed. Xavier Hascher (Bern: Peter Lang, 1996): 261–77, Schubert’s Fingerprints: Studies in the Instrumental Works (Farnham: Ashgate, 2011): 47–97. The sonata forms examined in this article all fall under Wollenberg’s ‘poetic’ category; Schubert’s Fingerprints, 47.

6 Reicha, Anton, Cours de composition musicale ou Traité complet et raisonné d’harmonie pratique (Paris: Gambaro, 1818): 49 Google Scholar.

7 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 5455 Google Scholar and 59.

8 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 5253 Google Scholar. Translations are my own.

9 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 60 Google Scholar.

10 Clark, , Analyzing Schubert, 6273 Google Scholar.

11 Reicha’s first treatise was published in 1818 (see n. 6) and the first edition of Weber’s treatise was published in instalments as Weber, Gottfried, Versuch einer geordneten Theorie der Tonsetzkunst (Mainz: B. Schott, 1817–1821)Google Scholar.

12 Johnson, Graham Accessed 28 May 2014 Google Scholar.

13 Kerman, Joseph, ‘A Romantic Detail in Schubert’s Schwanengesang ’, in Schubert: Critical and Analytical Studies, ed. Walter Frisch (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986): 54 Google Scholar.

14 Kerman, ‘A Romantic Detail’.

15 Reed, John, The Schubert Song Companion (Manchester: Mandolin, 1997): 241 Google Scholar.

16 I am relying here on the dates of the different versions given in the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, Series IV: 5a (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1999). They are dated as follows: March 1816, March or April 1816, 1820 or 1821, November 1821, between 1821 and 1823, published July 1828.

17 In this article, I use a notation that I first introduced in Analyzing Schubert: I adapt Schenker’s use of the caret for scale degree in order to indicate a pitch: Â means the pitch A etc.

18 Vogler, Georg Joseph, Tonwissenschaft und Tonsetzkunst (Mannheim: Kuhrfürstliche Hofdruckerdi, 1776)Google Scholar, de Momigny, Jérôme-Joseph, Cours complet d’harmonie et de composition (Paris: Bailleul, 1806)Google Scholar, Reicha, , Cours de composition, Adolf Bernhard Marx, Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition, 4 vols (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1837–47)Google Scholar, Weber, Versuch, and Jelensperger, Daniel, L’harmonie au commencement du dix-neuvième siècle et method pour l’étudier (Paris: Zetter, 1830)Google Scholar – for the latter, I have consulted the more widely available German translation Die Harmonie im Angange des neunzehnten Jahrhunderts und die Art sie zu erlernen, trans. August Ferdinand Häser (Leipzig: Breitkopf and Härtel, 1833).

19 Translations are from Weber, , The Theory of Musical Composition, trans. James F. Warner, with additions by John Bishop (London: Robert Cocks and Co., 1842): vol. 1, 332 Google Scholar.

20 Weber and Jelensperger are clearest on this avoided fate for V7 in the minor mode because their analytical notation enables us to trace how they perceive modulation. For both theorists, any harmony whose pitches do not belong to the major or harmonic minor scales of the prevailing tonic constitute either a modulation or temporary digression away from the prevailing key. A temporary digression can apply even to a single chord. Weber and Jelensperger both used upper- and lower-case letters to denote mode and key, but Roman and Arabic numerals respectively to identify Stufen within the key.

21 For the chart illustrating the exclusive two-fold ‘Mehrdeutigkeit’ of the dominant seventh, see Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 297 Google Scholar.

22 The most extensive study of Weber’s concept of ‘Mehrdeutigkeit’ and its history in the treatises of his predecessors and successors is Janna K. Saslaw, Gottfried Weber and the Concept of Mehrdeutigkeit (PhD diss., Columbia University, 1992).

23 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 407408 Google Scholar and 419–29.

24 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 422 Google Scholar.

25 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 419 Google Scholar. Emphasis in original. Similar advice in Reicha’s Cours de composition was mentioned above (see note 8).

26 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 420 Google Scholar. Emphasis in original. The other pieces of advice are: the placement within the bar is important (Weber, 420); an otherwise ‘repulsive’ harmony is ‘rendered more acceptable’ if it is featured in a sequence (Weber, 421); the succession of harmonies becomes less offensive to the ear if the chord preceding the shift is an ambiguous (‘equivocal’) chord, as the ear then latches onto the next chord as a key-chord (Weber, 423–44); despite the advice above about the power of root position, Weber also suggested that remote modulations where the new tonic arrives in a 6/4 position produce a ‘peculiarly fine effect’, as the new tonic is then poised to be established cadentially (Weber, 428–9).

27 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 419420 Google Scholar. We can witness Schubert at play with these compositional options in, for example, ‘An Emma’ (D. 113), where he equivocates on whether or not to begin a new section in root position. In the first two versions of 1814 and 1821, the return to F major from a juxtaposed local third relation is in root position; in the third published version of 1826, F major was inverted.

28 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 2, 420 Google Scholar. Emphasis in original.

29 In this article, I make use of the standard R (Relative), L (Leittonwechsel), and P (Parallel) neo-Riemannian transformations and their combinations. The classic study on hexatonic cycles pertaining to Schubert is Cohn, Richard, ‘As Wonderful as Star Clusters: Instruments for Gazing at Tonality in Schubert’, 19th-Century Music 22 (1998–99): 213232 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; for a broader introduction to thirds in a neo-Riemannian context, see , Cohn, ‘Neo-Riemannian Operations, Parsimonious Trichords, and their Tonnetz Representations’, Journal of Music Theory 42 (1997): 166 Google Scholar.

30 Newbould, Brian, Schubert: The Music and the Man (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997): 309 Google Scholar.

31 The first version of ‘Der Musensohn’ was in A-flat and C major; in 1828, it was transposed to G and B and published as Op. 92. No. 1. The transposition in this case was probably motivated by the fact that the material in A-flat sits more comfortably under the pianist’s hands in G major than in A-flat.

32 Another palpable difference comes from the functional meaning of the harmonies in each scenario. Although the PAC cadence in ‘Geistes-Gruß’ means the B major harmony functions as a local tonic, on a macro level it is a dominant of the opening tonic, E major. Therefore, the B major to G major sonority functions as B: I to G: I on the micro level but E: V to G: I on the macro level in ‘Geistes-Gruß’ but as B: I to G: I on both levels in ‘Der Musensohn’.

33 There are also two versions of ‘Der Sänger’, and it is debated which version Schubert wrote first and therefore which version he intended to send Goethe. I follow Walther Dürr’s argument in the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, Series IV: 7, Supplement (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1979), 22 that the version published as Op. 117 in 1829 was most likely composed second. The first version is shorter, and its fair-copy manuscript dated February 1815 survives; this is the version most likely intended for Goethe. Both versions begin D major and end in B-flat major, but their internal harmonic schemes are substantially different; importantly for my purposes, the opening modulation (Example 3a) – where a strong similarity to ‘Geistes-Gruß’ may be drawn – is the same in both versions. For a compelling interpretation of the poetic and diegetic motivation behind Schubert’s revisions, see Lambert, Sterling, Re-Reading Poetry: Schubert’s Multiple Settings of Goethe (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2009): 1632 Google Scholar.

34 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 60 Google Scholar.

35 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 60 Google Scholar.

36 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 363364 Google Scholar.

37 Reed, John, The Schubert Song Companion (Manchester: Mandolin, 1997): 206 Google Scholar.

38 The date is uncertain, but the Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, Series IV: 7, Anhang proposes c. 1814.

39 On this as the most straightforward form of modulation, see Reicha, Cours de composition, 52.

40 There is little agreement on how to label a dominant transformation. I shall avoid using the letters D and D-1 because only the D transformation arises in my analyses, which could get confused with the name of the harmony D major that serves as part of the transformation in my discussion below of Schubert’s Unfinished. I therefore use DOM, following the tradition that the transformation in the descending direction is the default DOM, while an ascending fifth would be DOM-1 or SUBD. The latter, however, does not arise in my analyses.

41 The list of terms and abbreviations, which I adopt here, is given in Hepokoski, James and Darcy, Warren, Elements of Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006): xxvxxviii CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

42 Fisk, Charles, Returning Cycles: Contexts for the Interpretation of Schubert’s Impromptus and Last Sonatas (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001): 91 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The importance of the common tone as dominant is widely noted; amongst the most detailed discussions are Webster, James, ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form and Brahms’s First Maturity’, 19th-Century Music 2 (1978–79): 23 CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Rönnau, Klaus, ‘Zur Tonarten-Disposition in Schuberts Reprisen’, in Festschrift Heinz Becker: zum 60. Geburtstag am 26. Juni 1982, ed. Jürgen Schläder and Reinhold Quandt (Laaber: Laaber-Verlag, 1982): 435 Google Scholar, and Hinrichsen, , Untersuchen zur Entwicklung der Sonatenform in der Instrumentalmusik Franz Schuberts, 304305 Google Scholar.

43 The literature on this is vast, but see, for instance, the chapter on Schubert compositional techniques in Newbould, Schubert: The Music and the Man, 389–402. Webster includes a section on Schubert’s transitions in his article, ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 22–6. Susan Wollenberg has extensively studied Schubert’s transitions; see note 5 above.

44 Webster, , ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 23 Google Scholar. The ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great’ Symphonies are cited as two examples of these, amongst many others.

45 Webster, , ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 24 Google Scholar and 22 respectively.

46 Webster, , ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 23 Google Scholar. Note that, in addition to the horns, the bassoons play ÞD too.

47 Webster, , ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 23 Google Scholar.

48 Wollenberg, , ‘Schubert’s Transitions’, 22 Google Scholar.

49 On Schubert’s propensity for closed forms in his sonata forms, see Salzer, Felix, ‘Die Sonatenform bei Franz Schubert’, Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 15 (1928): 86125 Google Scholar and Webster, ‘Schubert’s Sonata Form’, 19 and 21.

50 Triads belonging to each mode were considered relatives by Reicha, , Cours de composition, 54 Google Scholar. Weber distinguished distances on his tonal space or ‘table of the relationship of keys’ (‘Tabelle der Tonartenverwandtschaften’), where R is a first grade relation, L a second grade relation; see Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 317.

51 Reicha, , Cours de composition, 52 Google Scholar and 60–61. Reicha included the symphony amongst genres where abrupt modulations without long dominant preparation could be used (sparingly) for dramatic effect (p. 52). He had already developed his notion of the ‘grande coupe binaire’ (roughly equivalent to sonata form) and distinguished forms based on melodic and harmonic profile, which included ‘little transient modulations in relative keys to establish perfectly the dominant’ in Traité de mélodie (Paris: L.L. Scherff, 1814): 48, which predates his more dramatic and widely known definition in Traité de haute composition musicale (Paris: Richault, 1824, 1826). See also Weber, Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 345–6.

52 Early nineteenth-century theorists all expressed a preference for intermediate harmonies to have tones in common with both keys. The idea of a single pitch being the thread between them is triumphantly showcased by Marx in Die Lehre von der musikalischen Komposition, 199. For an excellent summary of Marx’s theory of modulation, including his special category of the single common tone, see Kopp, David, Chromatic Transformations in Nineteenth-Century Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002): 4551 CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Kopp’s book contains sections on Reicha and Weber, although he addressed different aspects of their theories from those addressed here.

53 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 363 Google Scholar.

54 Weber, , Theory of Musical Composition, vol. 1, 366 Google Scholar. This quotation comes from a passage on the effects of repeated listening on the interpretation of harmonies.

55 Beach, David, ‘Schubert’s Experiments with Sonata Form: Formal-Tonal Design versus Underlying Structure’, Music Theory Spectrum 15 (1993): 15 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

56 Beach, , ‘Schubert’s Experiments with Sonata Form’, 15 Google Scholar.

57 Beach, , ‘Schubert’s Experiments with Sonata Form’, 15 Google Scholar.

58 Newbould, , Schubert: The Music and the Man, 378 Google Scholar.

59 Brown, Maurice J.E., Schubert Symphonies, BBC Music Guides (Colchester and London: Spottiswoode Ballantyne Ltd, 1970)Google Scholar.

60 Smith, Alexander Brent, Schubert: 1. The Symphonies, C Major and B Minor (London: Oxford University Press, 1926): 45 Google Scholar.

61 Tovey, Donald Francis, Essays in Musical Analysis (London: Oxford University Press, 1935): 213 Google Scholar.

62 Hutchings, Arthur, Schubert (London: J. M. Dent, 1945): 100 Google Scholar.

63 Brown, A. Peter, The Symphonic Repertoire, Volume II: The First Golden Age of the Viennese Symphony: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002): 629 Google Scholar.

64 McClary, Susan, ‘Constructions of Subjectivity in Schubert’s Music’, in Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, ed. Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood and Gary C. Thomas (New York: Routledge, 1994): 216 Google Scholar.

65 It seems likely from the voice-leading that the first cadence is bars 267–268 and the structural closure is bars 279–280.

66 Quoted in Newbould, , Schubert: The Music and The Man, 394 Google Scholar.