Professor Researches Works of Well-known Composer
A leading authority on 19th century Austrian composer Franz Schubert, Alma College professor Scott Messing recently presented the results of his research on the reception of the composer’s “Marche militaire” to an international audience.
His paper at the Schubert and Concepts of Late Style International Conference, which was sponsored by the National University of Ireland, centered on the history of Schubert’s famous score after his lifetime.
Messing, the Dana Professor of Music, notes that while the “March militaire” was published near the end of Schubert’s life, it doesn’t seem to have any of the characteristics typically associated with late style. Despite this, he says it found success.
“There is no record of any public performances of the piece during, or even decades after, Schubert’s lifetime,” he says. “It went on, however, to become one of his most recognizable instrumental works.”
Though Schubert is regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, Messing says he died in relative obscurity with only a tenth of his music published. His fame, however, became more secure by the time new technological inventions such as the phonograph and radio appeared.
“In 1826 in Vienna, no one had stereos, iPods or other ways of hearing music that we have today,” he says. “You either went to a concert, which like today can be erratic in availability or expensive, or you bought music to play in your home for entertainment purposes. Such was the case with the ‘Marche militaire’ before its many arrangements brought it to widespread public attention.”
Messing’s presentation at the conference was the culmination of a year’s worth of sabbatical research. Though it wasn’t his original intention, he says he wound up with enough material for an entire book, for which he recently was offered a contract.
“When I submitted my plans for sabbatical, I wanted to write a few articles,” he says. “This project started life as the last chapter of my last book, which also was on Schubert, but it didn’t really quite fit in with its larger themes.”
His interest in Schubert came about indirectly. While researching for an article on how Vienna celebrated Beethoven’s centennial, Messing says he began to wonder how the city celebrated Schubert’s centennial.
“Unlike Beethoven and other great composers who lived in Vienna, Schubert was born there, and he died there,” he says. “As a result, I came across a rich amount of material that no one had ever considered.”
That was over a decade ago. Messing, who has published articles as well as two books on the composer, says he shares widespread feelings about Schubert.
“Because he died so tragically young, there was something mysterious and miraculous about the creative process through which Schubert was able to speak to a universal human experience,” he says. “Music is something that we all find fascinating and appealing, and I’m no exception.”
Posted: Mon, December 12th, 2011 at 11:03AM