I forgot my music a few weeks ago so I had to go get my A Major sonata D959 out of the library. To my luck, there was a beautiful Bareneiter edition in the stacks. And to my surprise, this edition contained a extra book with the surviving drafts Schubert made of the piece before the final version.
Schubert has a reputation, along with Mozart, as that type of classical music genius who could write piles and piles of music of the highest quality with no effort between his afternoon snack and his afternoon tea. Tim Page, for example, wrote that “Schubert engendered music as easily and naturally as some trees bear fruit.” But strangely, quite a bit of this earliest surviving draft to D959 is rather clunky, noticeably bare sometimes, missing effective transitions between material other times. One such case really caught my eye, because it offered a rare window into Schubert’s thought process.
In the context of a discussion about Schubert’s infamous harmonic motion by 3rds and 6ths via common-tones, as opposed to the more typical 4ths and 5ths, a fellow student in my Schubert class recently asked whether he could have been thinking of it as a device—a particular type of harmonic motion he commonly uses in his music—the way we were talking about it, or if his hands just instinctively made the small motions step-wise motions to suddenly shift the harmony
The case in point is the 2nd theme from the first movement:
He sits on the B major chord in bars 56 and 57 and then immediately begins in G major with the B common tone at 58. But as you can see by the brackets, that does not come until bar 65 in the final version. The common-tone shifting of the harmony is rather abrupt and awkward as it is here, which you can easily hear by playing it.
In the finished version:
he gets to bar 65 (the old 58) now by other means: he takes the E major theme, repeats it up and octave and suddenly changes the G# to a G natural part way through it to make it e minor, which quickly gets him to D major
What’s interesting, I find, is that, he’s gotten to G major in the final version, ultimately by a V-I relation, but it was a third relation with a common tone that got him there in the first place. It was this sort of motion that gave him the idea to go to G major from E major so soon after the introduction of the second theme. And I think our ears still very much hear the G major as being related to the E major (and e minor) chords by the common-tone B even if ultimately we did get to the G with a V chord D triad beforehand. The languages of harmonic motion by 5ths and of 3rds mix here, as they often do in Schubert.
It’s clear here, that Schubert was quite aware of the possibility for common-tone chordal motion before he even “heard” what it sounded like.
(nov 14, 2014)