November 11, 2006

Gratuitous Musickal Posting (TM)

I know that it makes my poor old father cringe every time I say so, but the fact of the matter is that I thoroughly enjoy listening to Schubert's Symphony No. 9 in C Major, sometimes called "The Great."

And indeed, I agree with the Old Boy that this piece of music has some serious flaws. For one thing, it's far too long, clocking in at just under an hour. Schubert could have said everything he had to say in half the time. For another thing, it is terribly repetitive (which is why it's so long). Schubert was talented enough to come up with some very good symphonic ideas. Unfortunately, he wasn't talented enough to really know how to develop them. His fallback was simply to restate them, sometimes three, four or five times. (In this, I think Schubert was a victim of circumstances. Had he been writing during the height of a mature symphonic style, I think he would have turned out quite competent journeyman's work. As it was, he got caught in the vacuum left after the passage of Beethoven, when the classical style was dead and the romantic was still trying to figure out its voice. Schubert simply didn't have the capacity to take the lead.)

So why do I listen to it? Well, as I say, Schubert had some good ideas. He was also a solid orchestrator. These are not qualities to be despised.

Also, I've discovered how to put the music's flaws to good use, in that I often listen to this piece when hoofing on the treadmill. You see, timing my jog to match the length of the thing ensures that I get a nice, long workout. Aaaand, I don't have to worry if I miss something in the music due to my exertions because I'm confident in the knowledge that I'll have at least a couple more opportunities to pick up on it. Music theory and improved physical fitness. I love it when a plan comes together.

Incidentally, if you're ever interested in buying a CD of this piece, may I strongly recommend the Decca Legends recording featuring Sir Georg Solti and the Wiener Philharmonic. This isn't just one of the best recordings of Schubert's 9th I've heard, it's one of the best recordings of anything I've ever heard. Solti is at his crisp, nuanced best. And the orchestra positively hums in response.

POST-HOOFING UPDATE: I forgot that whenever I start ragging on ol' Franz, the Tasty Bits Mail Sack (TM) fills up with emails of outraged protest. Schubertians are a defensive lot, it seems. Most of their comments are along the lines of "Well, if you'd only heard his lieder...." or "How can you say such things in light of his Quartet No. Such-and-Such?"

In fact, I really don't know much about Schubert's chamber work except by reputation. So let me make clear that I am only speaking here about his symphonic output, of which I am quite confident in my opinion that it was not of the first rank.

Posted by Robert at November 11, 2006 03:12 PM | TrackBack