Resonant Beginnings

Joseph Kerman

in Returning Cycles

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2001 | ISBN: 9780520225640
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520925786 | DOI:
Resonant Beginnings

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Schubert's first impromptu, in C minor (op. 90, no. I), and the finale of his last sonata, in B♭ major (D. 960), could hardly be more different, yet these two movements might strike a casual listener as beginning in much the same way. In each, a forcefully struck, seemingly portentous G sets the stage for a C-minor melodic beginning that is marked motivically by repeated notes and keeps close to its tonic. In each, also, the abruptness and the gestural isolation of the opening G suggest something other than a simple beginning: the G commands attention, like a symbolic call to whose meaning the ensuing melody provides the first clues; it invokes a setting from which that melody is heard as an emanation. In relation to these opening Gs, however, and to the initially undisclosed meaning to which these Gs allude, the impromptu and the finale soon reveal themselves as opposites. Each of these two beginnings can also claim an intertextual field of reference to other music, mostly Schubert's own, of about the same period: the opening of the impromptu recalls some of the Winterreise songs; the opening of the finale resonates supposedly with Beethoven's String Quartet in B♭ Major, op. 130, possibly with Schubert's C-Minor Sonata and, most tellingly, with the first movement of the B♭-Major Sonata to which it belongs. These resonances may offer additional clues to the interpretation of these two openings as well as of the relationship between them. This chapter introduces some exploratory comments on each with a citation from the Schubert literature.

Keywords: Schubert; sonata; impromptu; String Quartet; B♭-Major Sonata; Winterreise

Chapter.  3893 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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