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Neither music fan, history buff or coffee table will benefit from this jumbled attempt by the author to ""share his feelings"" about Schubert against the background of the ""city he loved."" Osborne's intention not to write a ""musicological treatise"" does not excuse this fragmented portrait, which alternates chapters of sloppy biography with others supposedly profiling Vienna during Schubert's lifetime (1797-1828). The profile of the only native-born great Viennese composer of his age choppily jumps from biographical episodes to a list of his compositions, particularly the hundreds of treasured songs, in a musical vacuum, osborne avoids any discussion of the musical legacies of the classical period of Schubert's immediate predecessors, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven (reducing their influences to vague, unexplained labels such as ""Beethovenian in mood and manner"" or ""Haydnish in style""). And he neglects Schubert's own contributions to the classical traditions on the brink of the Romantic period. He overshadows the few pedestrian acknowledgements of lyricism and melodic beauty with frequent dillettantish references to ""Schubertian touches."" The portrait of the brief 31-year life of this astoundingly prolific composer develops mostly through the informative quotes from Schubert's contemporaries, as well as his own letters and diary entries; these offer scope and coherence in ironic contrast to Osborne's scattered, awkward and chronically speculative narrative. Three chapters of background offer an inept dip into early 19th-century Viennese arts and politics, a random list of the renowned poets, painters, politicians and royal pecadillos of the era, all framed within confusing discussions of the Congress of Vienna, Viennese coffee drinking habits, Viennese morals, and revolution. In sum, a profile that lacks an educated musical base and perspective, historic continuity and instructive commentary about Schubert, his era and his city. Glaring proof that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Pub Date: Nov. 11th, 1985
Publisher: Knopf