21 April 2007

Monteverdi, Schubert, etc.

I'm working on two term papers at the moment, due next week. (Yes, I'm chewing my fingernails.) One is about sacred contrafacta of Monteverdi's madrigals. For those who don't speak musicologist, the term "contrafactum" (pl. "contrafacta") refers to a new text being substituted for the original text of a vocal work. Thus sacred contrafacta of Monteverdi's madrigals refers to madrigals which were originally secular and have had sacred texts put to them. Apparently not many people study these, preferring to study the madrigals with their original texts. It is somewhat interesting to me, though.

The other paper is about the Schubert controversy. For those of you who weren't reading the journal 19th Century Music or the Arts Section of the New York Times in the early 1990's, the controversy is over whether or not Franz Schubert was homosexual. A lot of evidence has been presented on both sides. The fellow who initiated the discussion put forth some arguments that aren't totally convincing to me, especially in view of the arguments later presented against him, and the folks who have defended him all rely to some extent on his original arguments. Unfortunately, the first person to protest that Schubert was straight (as the myth had always said--though there are composers, like Tchaikovsky, whose homosexuality no one has ever denied) obviously had an agenda--she clearly believes that suggesting Schubert was homosexual sullies his reputation as a composer. Having an agenda doesn't necessarily make her wrong, but it puts her arguments in a bad light. The most convincing article that I've read is an article that our professor obtained for us from the author which has not been published--the author withdrew it, and I'm not sure why, which of course makes me doubtful about the author's conclusions. It's hard to know who to believe.

Honestly, it's not as if we'll ever know for sure whether Schubert liked men or women or both or neither. He isn't around to tell us, and he didn't leave much of a diary. I'm also not sure whether it's worth getting worked up over--yes, it may tell us something about why he was interested in choosing certain texts (like a poem by Goethe about Ganymede) to set, but other composers who were not homosexual set some of the same kinds of texts. So, does it matter? It really only matters to me if we could prove he had a relationship with a specific person who may have influenced his artistic choices. Otherwise, I will pray for his immortal soul and not really care whether he was homosexual or not...once I've finished writing this paper.

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