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Rethinking Schubert$
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Lorraine Byrne Bodley and Julian Horton

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780190200107

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190200107.001.0001

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Schubert through a Neo-Riemannian Lens

Schubert through a Neo-Riemannian Lens

(p.275) 14 Schubert through a Neo-Riemannian Lens
Rethinking Schubert

Suzannah Clark

Oxford University Press

Franz Schubert’s ‘Schwanengesang’ (‘Wie klag’ ich’s aus’), D744, sets a poem by Johann Chrysostomus Senn (1795–1857) that begins with a swan song and ends with a narrator’s commentary. The inherent Volkslied quality of Senn’s highly regular strophic poem was recast by Schubert into a modified strophic setting, within which the swan song itself—the song within a song—is a highly modulatory, through-composed structure. These constant modulations aptly capture the swan’s gradual metamorphosis. I argue that scrutinising Schubert’s modulatory strategy through a neo-Riemannian lens has profound theoretical and aesthetic implications. I contend that Schubert’s propensity to colour repeated tones in the vocal line with different harmonies in the accompaniment led him not only to intuit the contents of the PLR neo-Riemannian cycle of the ‘chicken-wire’ Tonnetz, but also to transform the role of the accompaniment from its deliberately superfluous function within the Volkslied aesthetic into a vital vehicle of musical meaning.

Keywords:   Schwanengesang, Schubert’s harmony, aesthetics of song, Johann Chrysostomus Senn, Volkslied, Neo-Riemannian theory

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