week10: schubert; phosphorescent


If he had managed to live another decade, he would have been the acknowledged inheritor of Beethoven’s mantle. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

a friend of mine during a late night chat in a homeless shelter said—after one of my tirades—that she would prefer it if i didn’t talk so much but still had just as much to say. she elaborated: my ideas would benefit much more from being discovered at the bottom of a barely legible stack of notes committed to the attic decades after their author’s many unsuccessful bids to maintain a livelihood as a creative ended in a death not too relevant to these ideas.  yes i’ve embellished a little, but those were her well meaning sentiments, more or less. and that is my horror whenever i absentmindedly find myself at the foot of the ghoulish subject: to suffer a death completely irrelevant to one’s life… to one’s style of living. (as the Dowager Countess laments in the first season of Downton Abbey: “I’m not being ridiculous. No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house – especially somebody they didn’t even know.”)...

yet another perhaps more terrifying horror, the kind suffered by franz schubert, is the life that ends just when things are getting interesting. just when—after many an unsuccessful bid, after every shade of doubt has been cast and recast upon your capacity for something new and original—there might finally be the premonitory sillage of something good, you realize you’ve spent your last hand. in this sense do we ‘plant trees whose shade we’ll never sit under’; in this sense is genius a human being:

Moreover, by looking at the lives of composers through the centuries, we will find that the quality of their output took a sharp upturn from the moment they secured a position at a cathedral or a court. It is probably due to the combination of incentive and reward. Genius too is a human being. “” egon f. kenton, notes from the recording

the combination of an overwhelming amount of incentive and a miniscule response of reward is often lethal. schubert wrote his C major Symphony in the spring of 1828 and died that november without ever hearing its performance—

For ten years the score lay, like so much of Schubert’s music, forgotten and unmolested until Schumann discovered it in 1838 and sent it to Mendelssohn who gave i at one of the Gewandhaus concerts in Leipzig. “”burnett james, notes for the recording.


Wisdom lies not in numbers only, but, as Schubert proved once and for all, in the wandering extravagances of heart and imagination. “” burnett james, notes for the recording


Nixa High Fidelity Recording. Printed in England // Franz Schubert (January 1797- November 1828) // Symphony No.9 in C Major D.944 “Great” //

The Philharmonic Promenade Orchestra, conducted by adrian boult


Symphony No.9

  • 1) Andante—Allegro ma non troppo

  • 2) Andante con moto

  • 3) Sherzo—Allegro vivace

  • 4) Finale—Allegro vivace


The finale is one of the swiftest movements in all classical music. [...] Incredible jugglings with tonality, and ever-increasing rhythmic impetus carry us to the conclusion, not only of a finale, but also of a symphony unequaled for richness of ideas, unmistakable fire of inspiration, and above all capacity for being uniquely and wonderfully itself from beginning to end. “” burnett james, notes for the recording

(that finale though...)———

Nights he spent with friends or sat alone in a tavern, smoking a pipe and staring into space and getting sozzled, like a boxer between bouts. Often by the end of the night he’d be smashing something, a plate, a glass. “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

like a boxer between bouts, that’s exactly the spirit of the three symphonies (5,6&7): moments of a dormant and calculated serenity interrupted by eruptions of the orchestra full gale force. the fourth movement of this ninth symphony—frequently and confusingly titled as the seventh symphony—delivers the knockout punch with its exclamatory finale. the principal violin leads the charge with waltzing meandering pirouettes to which the horn section provides a doleful counterpoint—and occasionally the entire orchestra swells with a pugilist’s thunderous swing. it’s this continuous volley between the sonorously serene and mock-heroically bombastic crescendos that characterize the conversation between wind and string sections throughout this triplet of symphonies. indeed the sixth symphony is subtitled ‘Little’ in anticipation of the 7th/9th symphony’s ‘Great’ moniker.

(our dear Nietzsche)———

In recent years some have theorized that he was gay, but that is speculation without solid evidence. In any case he probably frequented prostitutes, because that is what most bachelors did in those days. In Vienna there were thousands of ladies offering their services. Eventually, tragically, somebody gave him syphilis. “” jan swafford on franz schubert, Language of the Spirit

that was the same disease (mis)attributed to Nietzsche’s dramatic mental decline at the end of the 19th century. though that diagnosis has lost favour to likelier ailments such as a brain tumour. it appears syphilis was the easy button of that century’s population of physicians. at any rate the misdiagnosis was not far fetching: like schubert, Nietzsche too most likely employed the services of viennese sex workers.

not only their sexual proclivities but their general disposition and temperament were alike, especially their ruinous tendency for a consumptive expenditure of energy in creative output. more than a romantic characterization of artists of that century working themselves to rapture, is the more relevant and psychologically telling feature of their personalities: lacking, at a fundamental level, the instinct for sustenance—for admitting, and stabilizing the relationship between the promethean, quotidian exertion their sense of a mission demands and the meagre reserve of energy their physiology can sustain. for our part today, this instinct is common knowledge—just this week i mentioned this blog to a potential employer and their first question regarding was: how often to do you exercise?

just because the instinct is ingrained in our collective consciousness does not mean we’re able to articulate the paramount importance between sustenance and exertion. there are of course messy caricatures of this axiomatic truth, like: there is no right or wrong, there's only what a man can stand (most famously articulated by dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment; and most recently by the main character in netflix’s The Fall. though i believe in Crime and Punishment, the word choice is ‘what a man can step over’..) .no one, in my experience, has so far better articulated this fundamental principle of nutrition—that is beyond right and wrong, beyond good and evil—than the entire collection of Nietzsche’s work. despite lacking that aforementioned instinct in practise, he knew precisely how much of an artist’s output—both in quantity and quality—is owed to their relationship with their physiology.


My objections to the music of Wagner are physiological objections; why should I trouble to dress them up in aesthetic formulas? My “fact” is that I no longer breathe easily once this music begins to affect me; that my foot soon resents it and rebels; my foot feels the need for rhythm, dance, march; it demands of music first of all those delights which are found in good walking, striding, leaping, and dancing. But does not my stomach protest, too? my heart? my circulation? my intestines? Do I not become hoarse as I listen? “” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science—Section 368

hoarse from listening?!—but such was the aesthetic of his ethics—one that i subscribe to in the pursuit of my artistic experiences, in the words of brit marling (mastermind behind netflix’s The OA): you don’t really believe something, enjoy something, until your body believes it.

‘good walking, striding, leaping, and dancing’—that is the music of schubert, more or less. that one is sitting still is proof of not paying very much attention.

yet another one of the similarities between schubert and our dear Nietzsche is the extent to which their allegiances seem to lie deeper than the formal aspects of their craft. schubert’s reputation suffers patches of accusations by way of not being intellectually learned enough as a composer. but what he lacks in theoretical training is accumulated in warm-bloodedness in relation to the senses. there was nothing of that cold austrian air about him; and where some might have resulted to work-horsing themselves into perfection, he instead gave way to animal jollity:

On another occasion Schubert had a go at his virtuosic ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy at the piano but soon gave up, crying, “Oh, the hell with it. Let’s eat!” “” jan swafford, Language of the Spirit

this quickness to jollity and expressing whatever else came up on his emotional spectrum could be felt in the music. it gets to the point, and suffers very little ‘development’ between its peaks and trenches. Nietzsche, of course, thought very little of the scientist in the musician, and said in his usual bombastic table-flipping sharp-wittedness:

Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it could be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a scientific “estimation” of music be! What would one have comprehended, understood, grasped of it? Nothing, really nothing of what is “music” in it! “”  Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science—Section 373

(continuously vs. continually)———after several interruptions by other books; i’ve finally finished reading Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. he described the book as ‘a bit of merrymaking after long privation’ and perhaps no one was more private in that century, in relation to their capacity for socializing, that the author. i’ve already admitted a couple weeks ago how much of this journal borrows it’s spirit from that book and moreso from its jubilant preface wherein i found the motto for this blog: gratitude pours forth continually:

Gratitude pours forth continually, as if the unexpected had happened, —the gratitude of the convalescent—for convalescence was unexpected. “” Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

however—however: i’ve made a slight modification that i believe makes that excerpt more pertinent for our uses. the home page (‘Blue’) reads ‘gratitude pours forth continuously’ instead of continually. a small but crucial distinction. that an event occurs continually means that it does so at a measured/measurable interval of time—thereby, weekly film nights happen continually. that an event occurs continuously however, means that it does so incessantly, without interruption, without stop. both move in the forward direction, but only one describes that aforementioned instinct for sustenance. those who feel that they have time, or at least that momentum is on their side, tend to engage their artistic output in a continually sustainable manner. on the other hand, there are some who feel rushed, with a tremendous sense of being on their way—not only because of the distance from their goal, but the distance between them and the pace they need to strike in order to reach this goal.

every sense of a mission, in the arts or otherwise, always begins with a continuous pour of effort in the hopes of one day reaching an altitude wherein they can maintain a continual creative output.

there are fewer still, of the latter ‘continuous’ category, that begin with so steep an incline that they are relatively quickly consumed by whatever titanic task to which they’re devoted. in the same year as his illness, it seemed as if schubert was on the cusp of that altitude wherein he could maintain a sustainable output of creativity. this is what is unknowingly meant by such sentiments as ‘If he had managed to live another decade, he would have been the acknowledged inheritor of Beethoven’s mantle.’... for my part i think i’m still very much on my way, still very much beneath my altitude. i think this in the same arena of what Nietzsche meant with his ‘Become who you are’. if we are on our way to anywhere far, the farthest place is always to ourselves...

our beasts of doubt, of regression, fear, spite, bitterness, of gravity, are almost always quotidian beasts. as such our leaps too, and our trials, our hoping and volleys must also be quotidian. as that good song goes: If you’re going to do it at all, you must do it daily