Dear Members and Friends of the Sydney Schubert Society,
I am very excited about our final Schubertiade for 2013: not only are we able to present a wonderful, distinguished pianist (Geoffrey Saba, www.geoffreysaba.com) but we will also feature an all Schubert program including one of Schubert’s unfinished works (Sonata in C, Reliquie) edited and completed recently by Mr. Saba himself. An insightful scholar and distinguished pianist, Mr. Saba writes about this intriguing work below.
I urge you not to miss this exciting finish to our year on December 1 at the Goethe Institute, commencing at 2.30 pm. Please invite a friend to join you as we are looking to fill the hall.
With cordial greetings,
President, Sydney Schubert Society Inc.
Schubert’s Sonata in C (“Reliquie”) (1825)
It is tempting to regard work on completing a composer’s unfinished thoughts as another Massacre of the Innocents. While there will always be good reasons for leaving unfinished works unfinished, torsos are not necessarily intrinsically satisfying, even when they contain as much fine music as do these opening two movements. As Schubert has left tantalizingly substantial sections of the unfinished third and fourth movements, a special need exists to find a completion of the material which places the monumental opening two movements firmly within a four-movement sonata perspective.
The C major Sonata first appeared in print in 1861, when the publisher, F. Whistling of Leipzig, believed that it was the composer’s last sonata and gave it its ‘Reliquie’ title. It was the first of three expansive sonatas written in 1825, followed by the A minor Sonata D845 and the D major Sonata D850. The dramatic opening movement in particular demonstrates Schubert’s harmonic inventiveness, with the second subject first appearing in B minor, and no less than sixteen other keys appearing in the course of the movement. Its epic and narrative character is something new in Schubert’s piano music, reminiscent perhaps of his opera “Fierrabras” written two years earlier but particularly so of the almost contemporary ‘Great’ C major Symphony D944 of 1825/6.
After meeting Ernst Krenekin 1922, Alma Mahler asked him to complete her late husband’s 10th Symphony. Krenek assisted in editing the first and third movements but went no further. More fruitful was Krenek’s response to a request at the same time from his pianist and composer friend Eduard Erdmann, who wished to add the Reliquie Sonata to his repertoire, for completions of the work’s unfinished movements. In his notes to the 1947 recording by Ray Lev, Krenek offered insights into the challenges of completing another composer’s works in general and this sonata in particular: “Completing the unfinished work of a great master is a very delicate task. In my opinion it can honestly be undertaken only if the original fragment contains allof the main ideas of the unfinished work. In such a case a respectful craftsman may attempt, after an absorbing study of the master’s style, to elaborate on those ideas in a way which to the best of his knowledge might have been the way of the master himself. The work in question will probably have analogies among other, completed works of the master, and careful investigation of his methods in similar situations will indicate possible solutions of the problems posed by the unfinished work. Even then the artist who goes about the ticklish task will feel slightly uneasy, knowing from his own experience as a composer that the creative mind does not always follow its own precedents. He is more conscious of the fact that unpredictability is one of the most jealously guarded prerogatives of genius. ...However, scruples of this kind may be set aside once we are certain that the author of the fragment has put forth the essential thematic material that was expected to go into the work. If this is not the case, I feel that no one, not even the greatest genius, should dare to complete the fragments left by another genius.” As an example, Krenek explains that a careful student of Rembrandt’s style might be able to complete a painting lacking one or two corners, but could never supply two entirely missing paintings from a four-painting series; such an attempt would result only in “more or less successful fakes”. Turning to a musical example, Krenek, evidently unaware of the surviving sketch of a third movement, avers that Schubert’s own “Unfinished” Symphony was left by its creator with only two of its four movements written; of the other two there is no trace. “It would be possible to write two or more movements to the symphony in the manner of Schubert, but it would not be Schubert”.
Although the Menuet, in A flat and strangely reminiscent of Bruckner, seems fairly far advanced, it is more rambling in its construction and wanderings through remote keys than any other Schubert Menuet or Scherzo. The fact that he broke off after introducing a variation of the initial subject could be taken as a cue for continuing as if it were the opening, modulating back to A flat on the way and concluding there. But Schubert left no indication of the length he intended for either the repeated section from bar 35 or the accelerando at this point. If he intended the repeat to last the balance of the Menuet, there is the didactic problem in linking the A flat conclusion to the G flat repeat; alternatively, the repeat could have been intended for only the middle part of the Menuet. Krenek shows the possibility of completing themovement in A flat using Schubert’s material, and keeping the option of a modulation back to G flat in case the performer plays the repeat. The Trio is, fortunately, complete and one of Schubert’s most haunting.
The warm-hearted and virtuosic Finale presents an altogether different and more puzzling situation. After the repeat sign at the end of the exposition, Schubert commences an intense development of the opening Rondo subject and the movement then breaks off in mid-flight. We do not know whether an extensive middle section of contrasting character was planned, to justify fully the Rondo title (c.f. the D major Sonata D850 or Mozart’s E flat Piano Trio). Only such an addition, in truth, would round out the movement on a fitting scale. I am indebted to W A Dullo, whose fine and scholarly completions of the F minor and F sharp minor sonatas from 1818 and 1817 I have played often and recorded, for pointing me in the direction of Ernst Krenek’s work. I am also indebted to the American scholar Michael Benson for placing many completions at my disposal and for sharing his considered thoughts on this work in its various completed forms. It is to be hoped that this new completion arouses discussion which leads to further ideas on the unfinished material.