Last October, I wrote about, and quoted Misha Donat writing about, the astonishing outburst that happens during the Andantino movement of Schubert’s penultimate Piano Sonata, D959.
In Standpoint, Jonathan Gaisman reflects on the value of artistic conventions, while writing about that same amazing passage:
We live now in an age which congratulates itself on the fact that art has succeeded in dispensing with aesthetic boundaries; however we do not always recognise what an impoverishment such freedom brings with it. If there are no conventions, it is impossible to be unconventional. In the middle section of the andantino, Schubert flouts every compositional principle, every concert-goer’s expectation. No wonder that András Schiff has said that the piece’s “modernity is incredible even today”. It is in effect a nervous breakdown in music, all the more remarkable from a composer who was writing at the dawn of the Romantic era but whose idiom and language are still classical.
Had Schubert not been cut down in his prime by syphilis, and had he not seen this coming, but had he instead lived to a ripe old age, composing all the while, would that actually have been, for us listeners, unambiguously better? Would he ever have written music like that, and like the other “late” masterpieces that he did write?