Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Postscript: More to Improvisation

As a postscript to yesterday’s improvisation history, here is an alternate solution that Schubert might easily have come to: a simple sixteen-bar form that resolves the hypermetric peculiarities of its model: see graphic below (NB: this is a thumbnail; click on it for the original). The roughness of its harmonic figures in the second strain is not evidence against it, as there are many precedents in the waltz repertoire for such sudden harmonic turns between the four-bar components of an eight-bar strain.

The key to the changes lies at the beginning: the two-beat (four-eighth-note) pickup has been altered to a clichéd single quarter-beat (as in D365n6), and the harmony begins "in progress," as it were, with the 7-6 suspension over ii6. The fact that this opening is plausible (and closely resembles an existing piece) tends to invalidate Carl Schachter’s claim that "to omit the first two bars [of the A Major Waltz] would be to suppress the opening tonic altogether; [this] would make the whole piece pointless and nonsensical" (72).

The prosaic clarity of the recomposed first strain serves as well as any preceding analysis to highlight the strangeness of Schubert's original, perhaps the last bit of evidence we require in order to affirm that the A Major Waltz is a poor piece of social-dance music and is misplaced in D. 779--perhaps it would have been more successful had it been expanded a bit to act as the trio to a minuet or scherzo.

My crude rewriting barely masks the most obvious metric problems, however. The A Major Waltz, with its repeated second strain, consists of 29 two-bar groups, or the two-bar introduction plus 14 four-bar phrases, or 7 eight-bar strains: a waltz in an 8+8 design has four eight-bar groups, and a waltz in an 8+16 design has six groups.

The fact of an introduction itself is unproblematic; they are not common in Schubert's own dances, but brief introductory figures or flourishes had become familiar to dancers nearly a decade earlier through their use in the "extraordinarily popular" Linzertänze by Michael Pamer, principal predecessor of Lanner (Reeser, 47)--both Strauss, sr., and Lanner had played in Pamer's orchestra. Three other waltzes in the familiar sets by Schubert include two-bar introductions: D146n10; D365n34; and D734n15. (In a performance setting for dancing, such introductory "vamping" was undoubtedly commonplace, as I suggested in yesterday’s post.)

And uneven hypermetric groups do happen, also: three of the Valses nobles, D. 969, have them. Numbers 9 and 12 have an extra four-bar group in the second strain: the former adds up to seven eight-bar groups with the repeat of the second strain, the latter to nine such groups. Number 3, however, wins the prize as the oddest design in the major waltz sets: a four-bar introduction is followed by a repeated strain of 8+8; the second strain consists of four eight-bar groups plus one six-bar group (as 4+2). Thus including the repeat of the second strain, the total is 4 + (8 x 13) + 4, or 14 eight-bar groups altogether.
According to Litschauer and Deutsch (111), D. 969 was very probably meant as a concert cycle, not a functional dance collection, and one has to wonder whether the A Major Waltz would not be better placed as a trio in that set, rather than in D. 779, whose members are otherwise all functional dances not far removed from Schubert's first published collection, D. 365.


Schachter, Carl. "Rhythm and Linear Analysis: Durational Reduction." Music Forum 5 (1980): 197-232. Reprinted as "Durational Reduction" in Schachter 1999a, 54-78. (Schachter, Carl. Joseph Straus, ed. Unfoldings: Essays in Schenkerian Theory and Analysis. New York/London: Oxford University Press, 1999.)

Reeser, Eduard. W. A. G. Doyle-Davidson, tr. The History of the Waltz. Stockholm: Continental Book Company, 1949.

Litschauer, Walburga, and Walter Deutsch. Schubert und das Tanzvergnügen. Vienna: Holzhausen, 1997.