Friday, December 25, 2009

Plantinga on Schumann's Schubert

Leon Plantinga writes that "Schumann reacts to Schubert with rare sensitivity and unquestionable sincerity" (220). Among the points by which be elaborates this assessment is a comparison of Beethoven and Schubert as composers for the piano. Here is the Schumann quote:
Particularly as a composer for piano, [Schubert] has something more to offer than others, . . . more even than Beethoven . . . . This superiority consists in his ability to write more idiomatically for the piano, i.e. everything sounds as if drawn from the very depths of the instrument, while with Beethoven we must borrow for tone color, first from the oboe, then the horn, etc.
And Plantinga's comment: "Schubert's music is perfectly suited to the light and sensitive Viennese piano which he (and Schumann) used, while Beethoven's explosive sforzati and orchestral effects, not always successful even on a modern piano, strain the capacities of an early nineteenth-century [instrument]" (221). (Link to a performance of D790n3 apparently played on a period instrument.)

Here is Schumann's general assessment of Schubert, after speaking of "the enchanting fluctuation of feeling, and the wholly new world into which we are transported" (226):
But even then there ever remains a pleasurable feeling like that following an enchanted fairy tale; one senses that the composer was master of his story, and its connections, in time, will also be clear to you.
Plantinga's comment:
This is somehow a melancholy picture: Schumann the revolutionary, the spokesman for the new era, finds ultimate satisfaction only in the music of a composer long since dead. Schubert's . . . music reminded Schumann of his own youth, when he devoured all Schubert's available compositions, of his own early ambitions and optimism. In Schumann's writing about Schubert there are always overtones of misty-eyed nostalgia; he felt a stronger kinship with him than with any other composer.
I should also note that Schumann included a Schubert dance (D783n14) among the fourteen pieces in the Klavierbüchlein he prepared for his daughter Marie in 1848.

Plantinga, Leon. Schumann as Critic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.
Schumann, Robert. Klavierbüchlein für Marie. Faksimile-Ausgabe der Handschrift im Beethoven-Haus Bonn mit einem Kommentar von Bernhard R. Appel. Bonn: Beethoven-Haus, c1998.