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Rendering (author's note)

Schubert - Berio
for orchestra (1989-1990)


During the last several years, I have been asked once and again to do “something” with Schubert, but I always declined this kind but cumbersome invitation. Until I received a copy of the sketches that the 31 year old Franz had been accumulating during the last few weeks of his life in preparation for a Tenth Symphony in D major (D. 936 A). These sketches are fairly complex and of great beauty: they add a further indication of the new paths that were taking Schubert away from Beethoven’s influence. Seduced by those sketches, I therefore decided to restore them: restore and not complete nor reconstruct.
I have never been attracted to those operations of philological bureaucracy which sometimes lead musicologists to pretend they are Schubert (if not Beethoven) and “complete the Symphony as Schubert himself might have done”. This is a curious form of mimesis that has something in common with those picture restorations sometimes responsible for irreparable damages, as in the case of the Raffaello frescoes at the Farnesina in Rome. As I worked on Schubert’s sketches, I set myself the target of following those modern restoration criteria that aim at reviving the old colours without however trying to disguise the damage that time has caused, often leaving inevitable empty patches in the composition (as in the case of Giotto in Assisi).
The sketches as left by Schubert almost in a pianistic form bear occasional instrumental indications but are at times almost written in shorthand; I had to complete them above all in the internal and bass parts. Their orchestration didn’t present particular problems. I used the same instrumentation as in the Unfinished (two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, three trombones, timpani and strings) and in the first movement (Allegro) I tried often to safeguard the obvious Schubert colour. But not always. There are brief episodes in the musical development which seem to lean towards Mendelssohn and the orchestration naturally follows suit. Furthermore, the expressive climate of the second movement, an Andante, is stunning: it seems inhabited by Mahler’s spirit.
In the empty spaces between one sketch and the next, I have composed a kind of connective tissue constantly different and changing, always pianissimo and “distant”, intermingled with reminiscences of the late Schubert (the Piano Sonata in B flat, the Piano Trio in B flat, etc.) and crossed by polyphonic textures based on fragments of the same sketches. This delicate musical cement that comments on the discontinuities and the gaps between one sketch and the other is always announced by the sound of a celesta.
During his last days Schubert took counterpoint lessons. Music paper was expensive and it was perhaps for this reason that amongst the sketches for the Tenth Symphony I found a brief and elementary counterpoint exercise (a canon in contrary motion). I couldn’t refrain from orchestrating this as well, integrating it to the impressive journey of the Andante.
The final Allegro is equally impressive and certainly the most polyphonic orchestral movement Schubert ever wrote. These last sketches, although very fragmentary, are of great homogeneity and they show Schubert in the process of testing different contrapuntal possibilities for one and the same thematic material. These sketches alternatively present the character of a Scherzo and that of a Finale. This ambiguity that the young Schubert might have possibly solved or exasperated in some new way, attracted me particularly: in fact my “cement-work” here aims amongst other things at making that ambiguity structurally expressive.
I have written this homage to Schubert between 1989 and 1990 for the Amsterdam Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.

Luciano Berio

Note d'autore: informazioni generali | Author's note: general info