Oliver Schwab-Felisch

Distorted Instances. Listening to Schemata in Beethoven and Schubert

Definitions of musical schemata as given by Gjerdingen (2007) either stem from historical music theory or are modeled after its leading principles. Accordingly, any description of a schema‘s particular instance should involve considering historical sources. As debates on historicism have shown, however, relying solely on historical material bears its own difficulties. Historical analyses, for example, do not simply mirror listening experiences but also depend on theoretical concepts. Historical music theory, in turn, keeps silent regarding the procedural knowledge employed in acts of composing (Temperley 2006). Reconstructing listening in the early 19th century is a particularly intricate task. The concept of organic form, as developed by C.F. Michaelis (1795ff.) and others, changed the status of realtime-perception in music. In order to mentally represent a whole piece and to gain a full understanding of its particular details, repeated listening became necessary. Ideally, listening was complemented by reading the score and playing excerpts of the music under consideration. At the same time, as becomes evident in the early reception of Beethoven‘s compositions, realtime-listening could generate experiences of incomprehension and mental overload even in educated listeners. Two sorts of excerpts from compositions by Beethoven and Schubert shall be discussed: first, instances of conventional schemata that must be estimated as distorted; second, passages that can be perceived as distorted schemata but actually are of a non-schematic origin. In both cases it may turn out that neither historically informed listening nor an exclusively historistically orientated analysis can sufficiently shed light on the structural peculiarities of a piece. Given our contemporary interest in understanding historical compositions in their own right, then, historically informed analysis can not be estimated as an end in itself but as an indispensable interlocutor in a dialogue between times and analytical approaches.