Schubert’s instrumental voice: vocality in melodic construction in the late works

Samuels, Robert (2014). Schubert’s instrumental voice: vocality in melodic construction in the late works. In: Bernhart, Walter and Kramer, Lawrence eds. On Voice. Word and Music Studies, 13. Amsterdam: Rodopi, pp. 161–178.




The music of Schubert’s last months, written between the death of Beethoven (March 1827) and his own (November 1828), shows a definite programme of creating substantial, mainly instrumental works. This new direction in Schubert’s compositional career demonstrates a desire to ‘find a voice’ in music, often by imbuing melodies in these late works with the vocal mastery demonstrated in Schubert’s song settings. Two songs later re-used by Schubert within instrumental works exemplify this tendency: “Die Forelle� and “Der Tod und das Mädchen�. In each case, little of the vocality expressed in the songs themselves is carried over into the instrumental works that use their material. However, the kind of vocality expressed in these songs is powerfully evident in several examples of melodic construction from the late instrumental works, among them the “Notturno� D. 897 for piano trio, the slow movement of the Piano Trio in E flat D. 929, and the Fantasy for Piano Duet D. 940.The semiotic richness and complexity created by Schubert’s use of vocality in these examples form the true point of connection between the expressivity of his songs and his compositional ‘voice’ in his last works.

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