Scholia Reviews ns 15 (2006) 34.

Werner Schubert, Die Antike in der Neueren Musik: Dialog der Epochen, K├╝nste, Sprachen and Gattungen. Quellen und Studien zur Musikgeschichte von der Antike bis in die Gegenwart Nr. 42. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2005. Pp. 507. ISSN 0175-6257 / ISBN 3-631-52984-8. US$38.95.

Bernhard Kytzler
School of Graduate Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Werner Schubert, a classical philologist in Heidelberg, Germany, is doing fruitful research on the role of ancient myth in modern music. Since 1983 he has published a constant stream of articles on this subject. Now fourteen of them have been collected in a book that will be in the hands of everyone who takes an interest in this 'crossroad of poetological, anthropological and theological studies' (p. 252).[[1]] Schubert looks at the intensified 'intertextuality in the dialogue of epochs, arts, languages and genres' (p. 10), which takes place in recent compositions based on ancient texts or on classical, mostly mythological, themes.

Schubert discusses well-known works as well as more remote, less popular creations. But he always keeps his eye on the whole process of the multiple interactions between traditional elements and contemporary culture. He is aware that there are also 'trivial forms of following antiquity in background music for "sandal films"' (p. 7), such as Troy or Gladiator; and he traces them back convincingly to Honegger's 'King David' of 1921 (p. 34). But he himself prefers to concentrate on Carl Orff and Igor Stravinsky, on Richard Strauss (Daphne) and Krzystof Penderecki (Dies Irae), on Luigi Dallapiccola (Canti di Prigionia) and Bruno Maderna (Satyricon).

This focus on single works by individual composers is only one aspect of Schubert's studies. There is another one, looking at much broader topics, such as 'Augustine in modern music' (pp. 359-401), or 'Why does Orpheus turn around?' (pp. 247-84). The latter text analyses the ancient tradition (from Virgil to Ovid, Hyginus, Seneca, and Boethius) and equally the modern musical heritage from Monteverdi and Gluck to Offenbach and Stravinsky. The former positions the place of St. Augustine within the social and spiritual framework of late antiquity, discusses the importance of music within his thought, and assesses how he had been represented in traditional and modern music -- in an oratorio by J. A. Hasse (1750) and in seven compositions of the twentieth century. Prominent among the composers are Michael Tippet and Frank Martin.

There is only one very interesting exception to the main topic of the book; the last article 'Gehalt and Gestalt von Haydns "Jahreszeiten"' (pp. 423-51). Here the centre of Schubert's elucidation is not the inspiration of transformed antiquity, but musical form. He looks at the four parts of the whole oratorio and identifies them in their character and sequence as the typical four movements of a symphony: sonata; slow movement; minuetto / scherzo; rondo finale. Schubert's subtle argumentation cannot be fleshed out here in detail but I find it clear, intelligent, and fully convincing.

Also at the end, we find a rich bibliography (containing a list of abbreviations [pp. 453f.] and books and essays [pp. 454-84]); a list of earlier versions of the individual publications collected here (pp. 485f.); and a substantial index of names and works (pp. 487-507). There is also one more practical addition -- enshrined in the preface there are some very helpful remarks (pp. 8-10) supplying a context and the aims and results of the individual chapters, which will facilitate the reader's work considerably.

When Schubert discusses 'Die Antike' in modern music, he includes different strata: individual figures, whether mythical (Orpheus, for example), or historical (St. Augustine); epochs (Late Antiquity -- for example, in Carl Orff's De temporum Fine Comoedia [pp. 325-58]); and classical languages (be it Latin, as in Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex [pp. 61-102] and in the chapter 'Jan Novak's compositions of Latin texts' [pp. 175-200] or Ancient Greek. The Ancient Greek is correctly printed and well presented in this volume (on pages 76, 250, and 477, for example -- regrettably a rarissimum these days!) This most welcome precision might be the result of Schubert's own personal endeavour or of the zeal of the publisher, who deserves (and receives on p. 11) special thanks for his cooperation.[[2]]

A sort of summary is to be found not at the end but at the beginning. The opening article (pp. 13-59) 'Das antike Drama im Musikschaffen des 19. and 20. Jahrhunderts' ('Ancient Drama in the Music of the 19th and 20th century') covers a wide field. After an historical overview from A.D. 1600 to about 1800 there is a meticulous study of relevant material, of 'B├╝hnenmusiken' and 'Literaturopern', highlighting two works: Mendelssohn's German 'Antigone' of 1841, and, equally influential two or three generations later, Stravinsky's Latin 'Oedipus Rex'. Schubert's study culminates in an outline of proposed research topics (pp. 53-55) rounded off by a list of relevant compositions (pp. 56-59). I would have liked to see Katzer's 'Antigone' (Berlin 1992) included.

Quite a lot is gained in this publication. It makes easily available a series of important essays, and the collection of them is more than merely an addition to what is already known -- it is an amalgamation of fundamental insights, historical information, and sharp analyses -- it becomes exponential. It also leads the reader to a deeper understanding of numerous developments of modern music. It further helps him to understand twists and turns that the reception of our classical heritage has taken during the last few generations. It illuminates certain features in contemporary thought and it is also a practical guide to many a musical masterpiece that brings classical antiquity alive in the twenty-first century.


[[1]] All translations from the original German of the book under review are my own.

[[2]] The book in general is produced almost impeccably; however, I assume that on p. 169 second paragraph line 3 'dem des' should read 'der des'.