Thursday, January 10, 2013

Schubert: Theme, Equilibrium, Length

The subject is the big B-flat Sonata, Op. posthumous, at 50 minutes length a major challenge.

In several posts I have dealt with some of its mystery: today I thought of it in new terms.  I have seen and heard the theme characterized as profoundly calm.  I equate calm with a state of equilibrium.

At least three elements of the theme belie that characterization:
  • The repetition across the bar line of the opening sound renders it profoundly ambiguous as to up or down-beat quality.
  • The black-key / white-key half step, B-flat to A-natural and return, which is the initial melodic movement.
  • The two white key half step, E-natural to F, in the inner voice on beat one of the second bar.
One could argue that the continuing B-flat bass renders all of this consonant.

It all depends on how one chooses to direct the ear.

If that slight tilt toward unease takes precedence the entire movement is profoundly altered as the music strives toward the equilibrium that it appears to promise, but does not convincingly deliver.

Making this adjustment has transformed the piece from one of problematic length to one of innermost fragility. 

The day after composing this post the fourth disquieting element of the theme struck me loud and clear:
  • pianissimo