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Rose Bruford College conference Oct 2012, Barry Mitchell paper, abstract

September 27, 2012

Title: Transitions and experimentation in the slow movement of Schubert’s Octet

Author: Barry Mitchell

The problem of creating transitions between themes or groups of themes seems to be particularly acute in the classical and early romantic styles. Composers may or may not invest creative energy in passages that can be regarded as transitions so, for example, in a sonata principle movement the equivalent in the recapitulation of the transition in the exposition may present a problem which can be solved in a variety ways.

The second movement (the Adagio) of Schubert’s Octet Op. 166 is in slow movement sonata form and demonstrates extremes of both inventiveness and simplicity in the treatment of transitions.  On the one hand the transition becomes a springboard for an experimental approach to slow movement sonata form. On the other hand, the transition is reduced to its simplest form. The resulting experimental approach to slow movement sonata form is especially interesting in the light of the relationship between Schubert’s Octet and its model, Beethoven’s Septet Op. 20.  The second movement of Schubert’s Octet is the movement that begins most like its model but develops into the movement that most radically departs from the model. This radical departure from the model is seen most clearly in passages that can be regarded as transitions. However, Schubert seems to have ultimately judged this experiment to be a failure and it was not repeated: the problem of transitions created by the experiment proved to be too difficult to solve. In later large scale symphonic works Schubert reverted to a more conventional and classical approach to both slow movement sonata form and therefore to transitions. Nevertheless, the slow movement of Schubert’s Octet is evidence that Schubert was thinking about recasting traditional forms in a way that would suit his own style and conception of sonata form.

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