THE "WANDERER" FANTASY

In 1822, Schubert embarked upon one of his boldest ventures: the ingenious and unprecedented fantasy for piano solo known colloquially as the "Wanderer" Fantasy. The work acquired this nickname because it includes a set of variations on a theme from Schubert's own Lied, Der Wanderer. But that is only a small part of the story.

Schubert did not merely intend to compose a set of variations on an excerpt from one of his own works. There were precedents for this by Beethoven and by Schubert himself. Schubert's daring plan went much further: to compose a four-movement "symphony" for piano solo, in which the slow second movement would be the set of variations. But his audacity went even further. The four-movement "symphony" for piano would be composed on the model of a Beethoven symphony, and the variations would be composed on the model of Beethoven's variations.

To confirm this premise, the first thing that must be established is the chronology:
1802   Beethoven, 15 Variations and Fugue on a Theme from Prometheus, Opus 35
1804   Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"), Opus 55
1808   Beethoven, Symphony No. 5, Opus 67
1812   Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, Opus 92
1816   Schubert, Der Wanderer, D493
1817   Schubert, Der Tod und das Maedchen, D531
1817   Schubert, Die Forelle, D550
1819   Schubert, Quintet ("Trout" Quintet), D667
1822 Schubert, Fantasy for Piano ("Wanderer" Fantasy), D760

This chronology shows that, when Schubert set to work on the composition of the fantasy in 1822, the precedents were already in place. He had already seen that the concluding dance from Beethoven's Prometheus ballet had served as the theme for a set of variations for piano, which subsequently served as a sort of preliminary version for the finale of the "Eroica". He had already made additional use of the funeral-march-like, ominous, portentous motive in the second stanza of Der Wanderer, in the music for the voice of Death speaking to the maiden. He had already included variations on Die Forelle in a subsequent work. He had already had ample opportunity to hear and study Beethoven's symphonies numbers 3, 5, and 7, and to assimilate the lessons to be learned from them.

The derivation of the fantasy from the Lied, Der Wanderer, is obvious. The derivation of the fantasy from Beethoven's symphonies is no less obvious. There is no need for anything more than the internal evidence. The following is a presentation of the internal evidence in detail.

Schubert's Lied, Der Wanderer, D493, to a text by Georg Philipp Schmidt von Luebeck, is of the more sophisticated type, where each stanza is set to different music. The music to the second stanza is an 8-measure period (m23-30) that movingly conveys the despair expressed in the text. The music repeats over and over a motive that sounds very like a funeral dirge. Rhythmically, this consists of a quarter-note, two eighth-notes, and a half-note; melodically: it is a monotone. The whole huge piano fantasy is an amplification of this simple motive.

The Fantasy is derived from the Lied in several important ways: The original melody in the Lied is in the second stanza; therefore the variations in the Fantasy are the slow second movement of the "symphony". The original 8-measure period in the Lied is in C-sharp minor, and at its conclusion it modulates to E major; therefore the 8-measure theme of the variations in the Fantasy quotes the Lied almost exactly, in the same key, and concludes with the same modulation. Subsequently, the variations continue to alternate between major and minor.

But the Fantasy derives from the Beethoven symphonies in more ways, and in more complex ways. The most basic and obvious of these is the division of the Fantasy into Beethoven's four movements (even though they are played without pause): sonata-allegro, slow movement with variations, scherzo with trio in quick triple meter, and heroic finale.

There is a motive common to all four movements. All the main themes, and many of the secondary themes, are derived from this common motive.
     Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is famous for just this characteristic. The well-known "fate motive" appears in all four movements:
     Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is similar. The dotted rhythm which dominates the first movement is also a central element of the other three movements, but in each case the rhythmic value of the second (shortest) note is altered. In the second movement, it is slowed down and made equal to the third note. In the third movement it is reduced to a grace-note. In the finale it is divided into two double-quick notes. (The last two are unfortunately swallowed up in many breakneck-speed performances.)
     In the "Eroica" all the main themes are constructed on one simple framework: the tonic note, the fifth degree above, and the fifth degree below. This is only exposed literally at the beginning of the finale, but once it has been revealed, it can be seen to have been the template for the first notes of each of the other three movements, as well as of the trio in the scherzo.
    In the Fantasy, the common motive is the monotone quarter-note, two eighth-notes, and half-note (or quarter-note) from the Lied. The theme of the variations in the second, slow movement is an almost exact quotation from the Lied. The opening themes of the other three movements are all quicker versions of the motive, and it is obvious that all three of these openings are versions of each other.

However, this is not the whole story. It is impossible to ignore the likelihood that the common motive of the Fantasy -- the very heart of the matter -- owes its existence not only to the second stanza in Schubert's Lied, but also in some way to the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Beethoven's slow movement is also something like a set of variations, and its point of departure is precisely the same as the "Wanderer" motive. Of course, in the Seventh Symphony that is the result of the slowing down of Beethoven's dotted-note motive. But on the other hand, in the Fantasy the result of the quickening of Schubert's motive in order to make it into a scherzo theme results precisely in Beethoven's dotted-note motive. So many coincidences are hard to swallow. Schubert must have been cognizant of all these interconnections.

The first movement follows the sonata-allegro form.
     The second theme is gentler than the first theme. This is certainly true in the first movement of the "Eroica" (m45ff, marked "P dolce") and the Fifth Symphony (m63ff, also marked "P dolce") which is in even notes in contrast to the "fate motive".
     In the Fantasy, the second theme (m47ff, marked "PP"), like the first theme, is also based on the "Wanderer" motive.
     After the exposition, there is a development section: in the "Eroica" at m152ff; in the Fifth at m125ff; in the Seventh at m181ff -- and in the Fantasy at m70ff.
     It is possible -- in violation of the very idea of sonata-allegro form -- to introduce an entirely new theme in the course of the development section, which is not repeated during the recapitulation. Such an exceptional event occurs in the "Eroica" at m284ff, and also in the Fantasy, at m112ff. It might be argued, with some measure of justice, that the theme in the Fantasy derives from the second measure of its second theme (m48) but the effect is that of the introduction of a new theme, exactly like the effect in the "Eroica".
     After the development section there is a recapitulation: in the "Eroica" at m398ff; in the Fifth at m248ff; in the Seventh at m278ff -- and in the Fantasy at m132ff. The recapitulation in the Fantasy is minimal, merely touching upon the first theme and proceeding directly to the second ovement.

The second movement is a set of variations. The density of the figuration increases as the movement progresses.
     I
n the finale of the "Eroica" after the initial fanfare, there is a 32-measure theme in traditional binary form (m12-43).
          In the first variation the figuration is in eighth-notes and quarter-notes.
          In the next variation the figuration is in eighth-note triplets.
          In the next variation (with the theme in the bass) the figuration is in sixteenth-notes.
          Assuming the pulse to be in half-notes, the figuration goes from 2 and 4 notes per pulse 
               to 6 and then to 8.
     In the second movement of Beethoven's Fifth, there are variations on two themes alternately.
          The first theme (m1ff) is in dotted sixteenth-notes:
          The second theme (m23ff) is accompanied with figuration in sixteenth-note triplets.
          In the first variation on the first theme (m50ff) the figurations is in even sixteenth-notes.
          In the variation on the second theme (m72ff) the figuration is in thirty-second notes.
          In the next variation on the first theme (m98ff) the figurations is in thirty-second-notes.
          Assuming the pulse to be in eighth-notes, the figuration goes from 2 to 3 to 2 to 4 notes 
               per pulse.
     In the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh, the first theme is in quarter-notes and eighth-notes.
          From m51 the accompanying figuration is in eighth-notes.
          The accompanying figuration to the second theme (m101ff) is in eighth-note triplets.
          At the recapitulation of the first theme (m150ff) the figuration is in sixteenth-notes.
          Assuming the pulse to be in quarter-notes, the figuration goes from 2 to 3 to 4 notes per 
               pulse.
     In the Fantasy this characteristic is greatly exaggerated. The theme is mostly in quarter-notes and eighth-notes. (In the several "movements" in the Fantasy the measures are numbered separately.)
          In the first variation (m9ff) the accompanying figuration is in sixteenth-notes.
          In the next variation (m27ff) the figuration is in sixteenth-note triplets.
          In the next variation (m35ff) the figuration is in thirty-second notes.
          In the next variation (m39ff) the figuration is in sixty-fourth notes.
          In the last variation (m48ff) the figuration is in sixty-fourth notes with tremolos.
          Assuming the pulse to be in quarter-notes, the figuration goes from 4 to 6 to 8 to 16 notes 
               per pulse. As if this were not enough of an exaggeration, the tremolos arouse the 
               suspicion that they are intended to represent something even more dense than sixteen 
               notes per pulse.

Among the "normal" variations (whose form corresponds to that of the theme) are "free" variations of an improvisatory character.
     In the finale of the "Eroica" there is such a section at m365-380.
     In the second movement of Beethoven's Fifth there is such a section from m123 until the end of the movement (m247),
     In the second movement of the Fantasy there are two such sections, at m18-26 and m43-47.

The third movement is a Beethoven scherzo in rapid triple meter,
     The opening scherzo section is strident and aggressive in character, and includes a second theme. After the scherzo section there is a trio, whose character is much gentler. After the trio, there is a recapitulation of the scherzo section.
     In Beethoven's Seventh the trio is a charming Laendler.
     In the Fantasy the trio is a charming waltz.

At various points, there are truncated fugues. These begin with a dramatic fugue exposition, with the voices entering one after the other, but they do not continued as fugues.
     In the second movement of the "Eroica" there is such a section at m114ff.
     In the finale of the "Eroica" there are two such sections, at m117ff and m266ff. 
     In the trio of the scherzo in Beethoven's Fifth, there are such fugal entrances, each of which leads to the "fate motive".
     In the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh there is such a section at m183ff.
     In the Fantasy, the entire fourth movement is such a truncated fugue.

One of Beethoven's mannerisms is his inordinately long triumphant conclusions.
     Having finally arrived at the final tonic chord, Beethoven often continues to flog the dead horse for several pages.
     The most extreme example is the conclusion of the finale of the Fifth Symphony.
     The conclusions of the finale of the "Eroica," and of the first and last movements of the Seventh Symphony, are almost as excessive
    
The conclusion of the finale of the Fantasy is of the same kind. It is so exaggerated that it arouses the suspicion that it is a parody.

To reiterate and summarize: Schubert's "Wanderer" Fantasy of course refers to, and grows out of, the second stanza of his Lied, Der Wanderer. However, to no less an extent it refers to, and grows out of, all the characteristics of Beethoven's symphonies. With such a rich background, it is an unusually skillful, extravagant, kaleidoscopic work. More than merely a self-reference of Schubert, it is also a brilliant tribute to Beethoven.