Thanatos as Muse? Schubert and Concepts of Late Style

Thanatos as Muse? Schubert and Concepts of Late Style


Call for Papers


International Conference 21-23 October 2011


In association with:

School of Music, UCD

DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama

Dublin Master Classes

Society for Musicology in Ireland


Department of Music,

National University of Ireland Maynooth



Schubert and Concepts of Late Style


Keynote speakers:

Professor Susan Youens ( J.W. Van Gorkom Professor of Music Notre Dame)

Professor Robert Hatten (Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University)


Guest Artist:

Graham Johnson (Senior Professor of Accompaniment Guildhall School of Music and Drama, FGS, FRAM, OBE)


Despite the books written on him, despite our familiarity with his musical voice, Schubert’s artistic career still presents a strange paradox. Some scholars have regarded him almost as an empyrean figure who has written the best Lieder in the vocal literature. But even that has been held against him: the composer’s attempted convergence of song-like melody and classical form has been written off as structural incompetence, while reception of his late instrumental works has been tempered by criticism of their episodic character.


Since Maynard Solomon’s seminal article ‘Franz Schubert and the Peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini’ (1989) biographical constructions of Schubert’s identity have moved radically from the sentimental image of a happy-go-lucky man, to preoccupations with sexuality, hedonism, depression and illness. Because these reactions are so extreme, and because other historical evidence contradicts them, we may want to relegate such images to the realm of myth. Like all good myths, however, they tell us something important and enduring about being human. They may not fully describe Franz Schubert but they do accurately portray aspects of the psychological realities in which Schubert lived.


Such contradictions characterise Schubert’s music, especially in his final years. After 1822 – the year in which Schubert was hospitalised for the first time with syphilis – the personality revealed in Schubert’s letters is a mirror image of the narrator in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, enchanted by new insights into the recoverability of the past and anguished at the shortness of the years or months that are probably left to him. Despite such personal tragedy, there is a wonderful steadiness of endeavour in Schubert’s late work and it is this embodiment of life’s playful as well its tragic aspects which keeps us returning to the music and wanting to unravel it further. It is this contradiction at the heart of Schubert’s late work that makes it a lifetime study for composers and scholars. He is in R. S. Thomas’s words ‘a visionary only/ in his perception of an horizon/beyond the horizon.’


It is one of the unhappy coincidences of musical history that Schubert’s journey towards that horizon began just as the journey of another of the magi was ending and for many years there has been an attempt to read the effort of his final year(s) as confirmation of the efforts of Beethoven. The anxiety of influence existed long before Harold Bloom immortalised the sentiment, ‘You will not surpass the one whose footsteps you follow’. While this conference will attempt to examine Schubert in his own right and not as a composer who became mired in Beethoven’s huge footprints, it acknowledges a chronology that continues to pose questions for style history, reception history and music theory alike.


This conference seeks fresh perspectives on these issues. In particular, we invite contributions on the following topics:

  1. •definitions of Schubert’s late style (ontology versus chronology; critique versus synthesis);
  2. •text setting in the late songs;
  3. •Schubert’s late style and Schubert’s maturity;
  4. •problems in the reception of Schubert’s late music;
  5. •contradictions in the biographical scholarship of Schubert’s final years;
  6. •issues in the theory of form;
  7. •topic, affect and expression in the late music;
  8. •issues of tonal strategy;


and on the following repertoire:


  1. •the late Lieder (from 1824), song cycles and Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D965;
  2. •the late piano sonatas, D850, D894, D958, D959 and D960, the Four Impromptus D899, and the
  3. • late piano duets, D812, D855, D947 and D940;
  4. • the late chamber music;
  5. • the ‘Great’ C major and ‘Unfinished’ symphonies;
  6. • the late sacred compositions.


Papers will last twenty minutes, followed by ten minutes of discussion time. Proposals for individual should be no more than 300 words. Abstracts for sessions/panels/roundtables should be no more than 800 words. Please indicate the number and title of each individual paper with its abstract. Please also send a short Curriculum Vitæ of no more than 150 words. The official languages of the conference are English and German. Abstracts should be sent to one of the following contact persons to arrive no later than Monday, 31 January 2011.


Dr Lorraine Byrne Bodley Department of Music National University of Ireland Maynooth

Co. Kildare

Prof. Julian Horton School of Music University College Dublin Belfield

Dublin 4


Proposals will be selected by the end of February 2011; the full programme will be announced by mid-March 2011. The conference organisers plan to publish a refereed volume of selected conference contributions.