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Schubert's early progress: on the internal evidence of his compositions up to Gretchen am Spinnrade

Nettheim, Nigel, Music & Music Education, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW


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  • Title:
    Schubert's early progress: on the internal evidence of his compositions up to Gretchen am Spinnrade
  • Author/Creator/Curator: Nettheim, Nigel, Music & Music Education, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, UNSW
  • Subjects: Schubert; Gretchen Am Spinnrade; Music; Compositions; Musical analysis; Music theory
  • Resource type: Thesis
  • Type of thesis: Ph.D.
  • Date: 1999
  • Language: English
  • Permissions: This work can be used in accordance with the Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license.
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  • Description: Franz Schubert (1797-1828) left many musical scores containing his earliest compositional efforts. Here 'earliest' is taken, for convenience, to refer to the works from the first extant (1810) up to and including the lied Gretchen am Spinnrade (1814), his first generally recognized masterpiece. This dissertation tells the story tracing those efforts in a chronological series of analytical essays. The essays mention only incidentally the external evidence of the home environment, lessons received, concerts attended, and so on, but refer instead primarily to the internal evidence of the compositions themselves, that is, the notes on the page. That story has not previously been told in these terms. The dissertation is thus a contribution to musical analysis applied to a quite important and certainly instructive but very little-known repertoire. An essential feature is that the story proceeds chronologically, to the (fairly large) extent that the exact chronology is known. Over a hundred works are involved, some containing several movements, so the story is necessarily long. Further, music is by no means a simple phenomenon, so the story is necessarily detailed. Another feature contributes to the tracing of the skein of anticipations of resources used in Schubert's later and more famous works, as well as to the evidence of derivation from models of other composers' works. Each work studied is provided with identifying information; musical incipits are also provided in view of the unfamiliarity of the repertoire. This identifying information, though necessary, is merely auxiliary to the story being told, and is accordingly set off from the latter. After the chronological story has been completed, a series of summaries is presented under the various categories of musical analysis; these summaries naturally refer back to the individual works. The ferreting out and telling of the story is itself the aim; no hypothesis is entertained. A review of the story yields several main results concerning the various elements of musical composition. (1) Schubert's attitude to the important matter of sonata form ranged from initial rather extreme experimentation possibly combined with some degree of misunderstanding to a clearly demonstrated ability to handle it convincingly first shown perhaps in his First Symphony D082 (October 1813). (2) Melody and text setting also showed early extremes as in the long and wild ballad Der Taucher D077 (first version September 1813 - April 1814), subsequently settling down, from about his first Opera D084 (first version October 1813 - May 1814), to a more suitable range of expression which was to serve him so well. (3) Counterpoint remained something of a weakness throughout, being used often but only in simple manifestations. (4) Harmony and orchestration were in general well handled throughout and many experiments were noted in methods of modulation. (5) An important factor to be found not in the notes but in the text of the score contributed to the mastery shown in Gretchen am Spinnrade (among other factors which are explored): Schubert's coming into contact with the inspiring poetry of Goethe. Three conclusions are offered on the broadest level. (1) The extent of Schubert's progress as a composer over the period studied was on the whole slight, because of the wealth of resources already at his disposal at the starting point at age 13. (2) The time at which Schubert wrote his first Symphony and first Opera - about October 1813 - is proposed as marking a settling down from earlier extravagance to more acceptably controlled writing. That applies to the two genres, instrumental and vocal music, on the one hand, as well as to the techniques of form and expression, on the other. It thus divides the period studied into two stages. (I naturally hope here to avoid oversimplification and acknowledge that the division is by no means watertight.) (3) By October 1814, the end of the present investigation, it was only in vocal music and specifically the lied, thus not also in instrumental or stage music, that real mastery can be recognized.

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