About this Piece
Length: c. 8 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, and strings
The mastery Schubert exhibited in the area of Lieder, as well as in his wondrous piano sonatas, his forward-looking late symphonies and chamber works, provided no guarantee of success in his life-long ambition to be a composer of the theater.
Over and above his efforts as an opera composer (see the notes by Herbert Glass on page 77 for one case among the many), there were his disappointing attempts to succeed as a creator of incidental music. His final attempt in this genre, which we might compare to the modern-day underscoring of motion pictures, was uncommonly haphazard.
For the play "Rosamunde, Princess of Cypress," the composer assembled a score including a song, three choruses, and various ballet sequences, as well as interludes between the acts. The play was the work of one Helmina von Chézy, who already had a notorious track record. It closed after just two performances, and was never published.
According to Karl Schumann, "In the play there appear a cursed princess, who had been brought up by sailors, a pursuer, who travels around with poisoned letters - whoever reads them, dies - and a prince, who has to live among shepherds; there is a mysterious shipwreck and, further, ghosts, hunters, and shepherds are to found in a colorful, fairy-tale scenario." Hollywood, are you paying attention?
The popular "Rosamunde" Overture that is played so often was actually composed earlier for a play named Die Zauberharfe, but was in fact only added to the published score following the composer's death, as a replacement for the overture - originally composed in 1822 for an opera (Alfonso and Estrella) - which Schubert used to open the play. (This was one of the ways Schubert emulated Gioachino Rossini, who made a habit of recycling his opera overtures; Schubert's two so-called Overtures In the Italian Style were further efforts on the part of the Viennese composer to express himself in theatrical terms.)
There is about an hour of music in the full Rosamunde score, but most of it (aside from that Overture) is rarely heard. Ironically, however, the third of the Entr'actes Schubert composed for Rosamunde may be among his best-known music. The serene first theme became the subject for piano variations in the second set of Impromptus, Op. 142 (D. 935), which were published in 1838, ten years after Schubert's death. The same theme also appears in the slow movement of the String Quartet in A minor, D. 804.
- Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.