Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Schubert: Overture to "Rosamunde"

The short life of Franz Schubert (1797-1828) produced a treasury of music that reflects the impulsive, opportunistic career of the world’s first freelance composer. Not remembered for his performing talent, Schubert survived on paid commissions, publishing royalties, some teaching appointments and numerous theatrical projects, mostly in and around Vienna.

The piece now known as the “Overture to Rosamunde”—the four-act play by Helmina von Chézy—was neither written nor performed for it. In fact, the overture actually used for Rosamunde in 1823 was itself borrowed from Alfonso und Estrella, Schubert’s 1820 opera which had yet to reach the stage.

When the Gesamtausgabe (“collected works”) of Schubert was published in 1891, the overture to Die Zauberharfe (“The Magic Harp”) was inexplicably included with the incidental music for Rosamunde, thus creating the historical misnomer that has persisted ever since.

Theatrical music, particularly comic opera, was at the height of fashion throughout the Napoleonic empire during Schubert’s formative years, and whether for artistic or commercial reasons, he embraced “the Italian style” in his early overtures.

After an introspective opening section that alternates between ominous chords and melancholy Alpine melodies, Rosamunde tumbles into a lively sequence of rising rhythmic episodes reminiscent of Rossini, whose music Schubert and the rest of Viennese society greatly admired.

Like so many of the unfinished musical sketches and fragments that comprise this great composer’s legacy, the misplaced “Overture to Rosamunde” is essentially Schubertian not only because of the clarity and spontaneity of the music, but because, like the life of the man himself, it is just simply incomplete.

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