One student gave me her draft of the answer for a question about the set piece of the AMusTCL examination. As I find that this is a good opportunity for me to share a view on how a student can make the argument better when dealing with the essay question, I rework her writing for reference, hoping that readers and students can grasp an idea of how to answer effectively in order to meet the requirement of the examination.
AMusTCL 2010 May: Set Piece – Symphony no.5 in Bb major by Schubert
To what extend does Schubert’s Symphony no.5 reflect the past and yet also herald the future?
Give specific examples in support of your answer.
From the preliminary inspection, Schubert’s Symphony no. 5 not only follows the typical Classical four-movement plan, comprising the Sonata-allegro first and finale movements in Bb major home key, as well as the Slow second and Minuet-Trio-Minuet third movements in Eb sub-dominant major and G sub-mediant minor; but also employs a comparatively small instrumentation without the usual trumpets and timpani, aiming to reflect the ineffable lightness of the chamber-like “pre-classical” sound. To many scholars, this work is said to be under the strong influence of Mozart’s Symphony no. 40 in G minor, K.550, expressing Schubert’s sincere reverence for the past great symphonic masters in the Viennese Biedermeire period (a period of revival of the classical beauty in arts) around 1816. However, Schubert’s idiosyncratic uses of chromatic median relationship and rich chromatic harmonies in setting the tonal structures of the movements can also show that this taken-for-granted ‘classical’ sound is tinted with a few colored spots, which are some signs of, as they were, heralding the forthcoming nineteenth century German Romanticism. Some evidences of the symphony will be discussed to support my argument.
Except for returning the principal theme in subdominant key in the Recapitulation and adding an additional 16 bars of new materials before the final coda, Schubert employs the conventional sonata form for the first movement, and begins his pursuit of the esteemed classical past by means of the light-hearted upward projecting tonic triad as the principal theme (mm.5-6). The secure manifestation of the tonic-dominant relationship between the principal and secondary themes in the exposition, together with the use of sequences as the chief developing devices never fails to display Schubert’s nostalgia of the classical heydays. Audiences are easily recalled the classical beauty of elegance and grace through the lively flowing of the dance-like thematic tune. In the opening of the Slow movement, Schubert uses pure strings to express a somewhat light and transparent simplicity (mm.1-8). The pastoral folk tune sings naturally through the less-weighted chamber-like accompaniment, seemingly to suggest a Mozartian aria in the sense that the air-light melody reigns supreme and that one could sings through (cantabile) (mm.1-8).
In the third movement of Haydian courtly dance, Minuet and Trio, Schubert adopts the same key (G minor), as well as the same style of tune, as Mozart did in the third movement of G minor Symphony K550. By alluding to the great master, the musical style turns out to be more Mozartian to some extent, yet reflecting the classical milieu in an anxious way. Does Schubert feel the anxiety of influence when he realizes that this Mozartian apprenticeship is appearing in the music? Thanks to his holding on to the classical Empfinsamkeit Stile. Schubert employs a gloomy, however fearful, full diminished seventh chord immediately to line up with the previous contrasting brilliant rocket monophonic tutti rushing upward in the opening phrase (mm.1-5). As the straightforward musical balance is seemingly broken down suddenly, audiences are easily reminded of a widely spread aesthetic principle, the illusion of order, which is an important classical ideal emphasis on how music operates its turbulence and irregularity behind an orderly and straightforward surface. In addition, the sunny G major key in the Trio section also enhances the contrasting G minor key of the somber, yet stormy, Minuet section, and further upholds the classical ideal of illusion of order. Last but not least, Schubert’s remembrance of the past can be experienced in the finale by means of using the conventional sonata form again. Symmetrical phrases, chamber style textures, and symmetrical melodic theme in the exposition may simply suggest how Schubert can skillfully adopt and adapt the past stylistic features so as to exhibit this symphony as the classical prestige (mm.1-16).
However, from the close inspection, Schubert’s using of his own characterized chromatic devices seems to voice the Romantic future to some extent. As an initiator of German Lied, Schubert often uses remote keys in the modulation in order to express his subtle changes of emotion in many of his songs. Similarly, one can never fail to find such adventurous modulation in the sub-surface of this symphony. One of the most significant examples can be found in the development section of the first movement. Here, instead of using the conventional cycle of fifth relationship to display the motives in various keys, Schubert uses median relationship to create four modulatory harmonic sequences, in order to develop the principal motives (mm.118-136). In the Rondo sections of the second movement, for instance, Schubert further exploits his personal favorite of mediant relationship by changing it to the chromatic mediant relationship, which consists of bVI (Cb major) and bIII (Gb major) keys contrasting with the Eb home key in the couplets. Apart from the frequent uses of augmented sixth chords and diminished seventh chords, Neapolitian sixth (flattened second), a Schubertian chord of sorrow and grief used in many art songs, are employed boldly in the linking passage of this movement, so as to produce a sudden dramatic gloomy feeling (bars 24-25). A long cadential extension with repeated deceptive cadences (V – bVI) can also be found in the last coda passage (mm.128-136). Such use of prolonged deceptive cadential setting aims to express the subtle change of the composer’s feelings and moods, which in fact, a salient stylistic trait of Romantic expression found in many compositions of the later decade. In the development of the last movement, chromatic inflected motivic tetrachord is used (m.184), so as to contrast with the opening motivic tetrachord in diatonic nature (m.1) for producing a deep emotion, and both of the dramatic and symphonic effects.
From the examples mentioned above, we can see how Schubert’s Bb symphony shows the reminiscence of the Classical past, and while at the same time, anticipates the Romantic future.
David Leung (theorydavid)