About this Recording
8.554663 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 2 - Schwanengesang
English 

THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 2

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Schwanengesang

 

About The Edition

In 1816 Franz Schubert, together with his circle of friends, decided to publish a collection of all the songs which he had so far written. Joseph Spaun, whom Schubert had known since his school days, tried his (and Schubert's) luck in a letter to the then unquestioned Master of the German language, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:

A selection of German songs will constitute the beginning of this edition; it will consist of eight volumes. The first two (the first of which, as an example, you will find in our letter) contains poems written by your Excellency, the third, poetry by Schiller, the fourth and fifth, works by Klopstock, the sixth by Mathison, Hölty, Salis etc., the seventh and eighth contain songs by Ossian, whose works are quite exceptional.

The Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition follows the composer's original concept. All Schubert's Lieder, over 700 songs, will be grouped according to the poets who inspired him, or according to the circle of writers, contemporaries, members of certain literary movements and so on, whose works Schubert chose to set to music. Fragments and alternative settings, providing their length and quality make them worth recording, and works for two or more voices with piano accompaniment will also make up a part of the edition.

Schubert set the poetry of over 115 writers to music. He selected poems from classical Greece, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, from eighteenth-century German authors, early Romantics, Biedermeier poets, his contemporaries, and, of course, finally, poems by Heinrich Heine, although sadly the two never met.

The entire edition is scheduled for completion by 2008. Thanks to the Neue Schubert Ausgabe (New Schubert Edition), published by Bärenreiter, which uses primary sources - autograph copies wherever possible - the performers have been able to benefit from the most recent research of the editorial team. For the first time, the listener and the interested reader can follow Schubert's textual alterations and can appreciate the importance the written word had for the composer.

The project's Artistic Advisor is the pianist Ulrich Eisenlohr, who has chosen those German-speaking singers who represent the élite of today's young German Lieder singers, performers whose artistic contribution, he believes, will stand the test of time.

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"Out of my great pain I make my little songs"
Heinrich Heine

"To the numerous admirers of Schubert's classic muse we offer under the above-mentioned title the last flowering of his noble genius: namely, those poetry settings which he wrote in August 1828, shortly before he passed away." Thus ran the advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung in May 1829 for a collection of hitherto unpublished songs by Franz Schubert. Soon after the composer's death his brother Ferdinand agreed to sell a number of compositions to the publisher Tobias Haslinger; among them was a notebook containing settings of seven poems by Ludwig Rellstab and six by Heinrich Heine. Haslinger added ' Die Taubenpost' (The Pigeon Post), a setting of a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl written in October 1828, and gave the collection the effective title Swan-Song.

The swan-song provided a popular poetic metaphor in the conventional, bourgeois world of early nineteenth century Biedermeier Vienna. Johann Christostomus Senn, a member of Schubert's circle of friends, based an eight-line poem around the idea that the swan is only able to sing with bewitching beauty once in its life: when it is facing death.

How shall I cry out in the death that I feel.
Dissolving my body in its currents.
How shall I praise the life that I feel.
Breathing liberation into you, my spirit?
He moaned, he sang in fear of death,
For joy at his transformation,
Until life fled.
That is the meaning of the swan's song.

Senn had spent a year in prison awaiting trial on a charge of political subversion and was then banished to the provinces. Presumably, the two poems of his, written in exile, which were set to music in 1822 and included in Opus 23, were brought to Schubert by a mutual friend. Against this background today's reader sees Schwanengesang not only as a metaphor, or, as in Senn's poem, a string of moods, but also perceives a deeper dimension. Is there not, hiding behind the glorification of death, a living being's longing to be as free as the spirit no longer confined within the body: in other words, a longing for a change in the status quo? Freedom of the spirit means not being the victim of political, social or personal constraints; it means being able to live out one's emotions – love above all. But why is it, asks the poet Karl Mickel in his essay Hohes Paar (The Noble Couple, 1979) "that the lyric poets in the first third of the nineteenth century all suffered unrequited love, if we are to believe their verses? And why is it that those who clearly had no problems with women on a personal level weep and wail with the rest; Heine, for instance, up to the onset of his illness "could command any salon"?" And he replies: "Unrequited love was a standard subject for poetry… The Romantic poets were so dominated by these stock themes that they denied their personal experience or were prepared to experience only what conformed with these themes…". This "stock poetic theme" is always present in Schubert's Lied -compositions, too, as the texts he chose were mainly written by his contemporaries. Unlike Heine, Schubert knew from experience about the suffering love can cause. If we are to believe the early biographical reports, Schubert and Therese Grob, the sweetheart of his youth, intended to get married. The reason why the wedding was put off and then cancelled altogether was not because they loved each other too little, or that their feelings cooled, but probably lay in the "marriage agreement law", passed in 1815, which meant that Schubert had to provide proof "of sufficient income to feed the family". As an assistant teacher he was unable to do so, still less as an unemployed musician.

These and other state controls which affected even the most private spheres of life, not to mention the constant spying carried out by Metternich's secret police, stifled any kind of spontaneity. People sought relief from mind-numbing reality in lively social gatherings and fled from the imprisonment (not only architectural) of the city to the open country – whether literally or in lyrical fantasies is another question. Thus unrequited love, poetry's "standard subject", lends a special significance to the metaphor of "wandering" and the "wanderer" in Biedermeier times. Wagner still has his Wotan flee from hearth and home in Walhalla. But just as the living must pay for their longed-for spiritual freedom with death, so the wanderer pays for his independence with the torments of restlessness and exile. With this in mind, one is prompted to read more carefully between the lines of the texts Schubert chose.

Franz Schubert's Lied -compositions as a whole revolve around the interconnected themes that have been dealt with or touched upon here, namely: unrequited love, parting, wandering, loneliness, longing for "death"; and this also holds true for Schwanengesang, which consists of two parts, each dedicated to one poet (leaving aside ' Die Taubenpost' for the moment). It is probably a myth, put about by the writer, critic and librettist Ludwig Rellstab himself, that when his hand­written poems were found among Beethoven's posthumous papers, they were passed straight on to Schubert. It is more likely that Schubert used an 1827 edition published in Berlin, from which he took the other Rellstab poems, setting them to music in 1828.

Schubert's Lieder are founded on so-called traditional folk-songs. On first acquaintance they already sound familiar, and yet every time we meet them again they seem entirely new. Musical analysis, rather than explaining this phenomenon, only makes it more puzzling. Catchy tunes, pleasant harmonies, uncomplicated rhythms and clear forms are Schubert's fundamental principles. He creates a musical atmosphere to suit each song and this remains essentially the same to the end. Sometimes it is built around only one chord, or a simple modulation, a short melodic sequence or a particular rhythmic pattern. If a certain part of the text calls for emphasis or variation, then this is done with few but appropriate means. Such a close relationship between text and music suits Lieder in a traditional folk-song style just as well as a lyrical, atmospheric description or a ballad.

In his settings of the Rellstab poems Schubert again employs the whole range of possibilities he has developed, whereby the piano accompaniment is often as expressive and varied as an entire orchestra. In ' Liebesbotschaft' (Love Message) we hear the babbling brook. In ' Kriegers Ahnung' (Warrior's Foreboding) the series of chords which – despite the 3/4 time – remind us of a funeral march, is contrasted with the urgency of the musical figures, the same urgency that determines the atmosphere of ' Frühlingssehnsucht' (Spring Longing), in which the change from the major to the minor at the beginning of the last verse makes a strong impression. In ' Ständchen' (Serenade) the piano, in keeping with the title, imitates a mandolin. Nature takes on a threateningly static aspect, expressed in crude harmonies and constantly repeated chords of quaver triplets in ' Aufenthalt' (Sojourn). The wanderer of ' In der Ferne' (In Distant Lands) walks with a heavy tread. He finds consolation, marked by a change from the minor to the major, in fleeting, insubstantial natural phenomena such as breezes, waves and sun-rays; things, like the spirit, which he cannot grasp and yet which are part of the material world. The background to the strophic song ' Abschied' (Farewell) is created by the relentless trot of horse and rider, hurrying away. It is possible that Schubert intended to include his setting of Rellstab's ' Herbst' (Autumn) in this collection, perhaps to complement ' Frühlingssehnsucht', thereby letting the soft breezes of spring develop into cold, autumnal storms. In ' Lebensmut' (Life's Courage), which remained unfinished, death is extolled as the impetus behind an active life. In Biedermeier Vienna that was pretty revolutionary stuff. And Schubert gives the text a very broad melodic line and a lively dance rhythm, which has associations with the polonaise or a cantering horse. ' Auf dem Strom' (Upon the River) was also going to belong to this group of Rellstab songs, but Schubert decided, as it was to be performed at a Musikverein concert in Vienna, to include a horn in the composition – an instrument that symbolised travel and parting because of its "relative" the post-horn.

Whereas the Rellstab songs can be seen as representing Schubert's summary of all his Lied- compositions up to that point, the settings of the Heine poems, which were written immediately afterwards, take ground-breaking steps towards the Lied of the future. Schubert first heard some of the poet's work – Heine was the same age as he – at a literary evening given by his friend Franz von Schober in 1828. He was so impressed that he put down some ideas for a composition straightaway. He did not set the poems to music, however, until six months later. Was this a sign that he needed to allow them time to mature in his mind before he found a suitable rendering? He altered the order of the songs probably – and this is borne out by the results – in order to create a meaningful connection from one to the other, leading up logically to ' Der Doppelgänger' (The Double). Heine was a past-master in the art of creating Romantic moods and images. Yet before they get out of hand they are queried by a pithy phrase or pointed comment. They become ambiguous without entirely undermining the Romantic longing which informs them. It is simply clearly labelled as such. This trick, known as Romantic irony, has become an aesthetic term, and the fact that Schubert was one of the first composers to set a small collection of Heine's poems to music certainly has far more to do with affinity than chance.

Schubert's composition technique remains basically the same: "The miniatures that surround him and that he re-creates become images of cosmic splendour and in almost every one of Schubert's songs there is more understanding and evocation of the eternal than in many gigantic works which reach for the stars but only succeed in hitting their head on the rafters" (Ernst Krenek, 1929). It was without a doubt his close study of Heine's lyrical poetry that led to the outstanding result. For Schubert remained true to his most important principle: keep to what is written. These poems, which give the impression of having been jotted down easily, are, in fact, so dense that they do not allow even one word to be changed. With texts as dense as these, there is always the danger that a musical interpretation will be over-elaborate. Schubert avoids this by doing exactly the opposite: by omitting he achieves perfection through absolute simplicity, like the Japanese artist whose final goal is a single brush-stroke.

At this point it is worth discussing to what extent Schubert took Heine's Romantic irony into consideration. Until well into the twentieth century Schubert's Lieder were seen as a melodious reflection of the much regretted Biedermeier times. Then Schubert's so-called tragic side was discovered more and more; whether caused by events in his own life, social conditions or Schubert's psyche was immaterial. This too was reductive and one-sided. The heavy censorship in Vienna at that time made it necessary to use and understand allusions of every kind. People read between the lines and listened between the notes, so to speak. With such sharpened hearing, it is possible to pick out the musical "hints" in the Heine settings which clearly label the Romantic sensibility as such, without undermining it; and yet which place our feet firmly on the ground again. ' Atlas', the first Heine poem in the collection, can be interpreted in this way. The miserable man carries a world of pain with a certain pride. The lover's desolation in ' Ihr Bild' (Her Portrait) is conveyed by the unison of vocal line and piano accompaniment. When the portrait begins "secretly to live again" in his memory, the harmonies change from minor to major and become richer. The ' Fischermädchen' (The Fishermaiden) is wooed to a siciliano rhythm marked etwas geschwind (fairly fast), hence the light-hearted tone is there from the start. In ' Die Stadt' (The Town) the rowing image evoked by the piano accompaniment runs right through the song with painful monotony, interrupted twice by passages in which only the rhythm changes to that of a funeral march. In ' Am Meer' (By the Sea) the vocal line and piano accompaniment run in unison for several bars, (the piano also adding thirds) reflecting the couple's "togetherness", or rather the memory of it: the lonely lover feels so tied to his former beloved by the tears she once shed that he curses her with a dramatic gesture underlined by tremoli in the piano part: irony or deep suffering? In ' Der Doppelgänger' (The Double) the singer is both narrator and dramatic commentator. Beginning on a central note, the vocal line has spanned almost two increasingly dramatic octaves by the end. The piano accompaniment conjures up a ghostly atmosphere. Recalling an old form, the passacaglia, the theme which consists of only four chords continually revolves upon itself, only at the end is there a change from the minor to the major: does this indicate a way out of the situation or a final realisation of the bitter truth?

In 1826, the twenty-two year old Viennese writer Johann Gabriel Seidl confidently published his first book entitled Dichtungen (Poetry). Perhaps Schubert knew him personally as he set twelve of his poems to music, with ' Die Taubenpost' (The Carrier Pigeon) the last song he ever wrote. A young voice speaks out of the text, one who uses his poetic metaphor of Romantic longing playfully. Schubert's setting is correspondingly light and playful. The accompaniment's syncopated rhythm transmits the feeling of the lover's heartbeat. But once again Schubert is exacting and reveals the deeper emotions hidden in the text: the false endings and minor key which cast a shadow over the repeated question " Kennt Ihr sie? " (Do you know her?) also express pain and unfulfillable longing.

Karsten Bartels
Translation: Micheie Lester

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The Poets of Schwanengesang

Ludwig Rellstab was born in Berlin in 1799 and after serving as an artillery officer turned to writing, as a poet, playwright, novelist and music critic. The son of a composer and music publisher, he was a strong champion of German opera and wrote or translated a number of libretti, although his meeting with Beethoven in 1825 and a proposed opera came to nothing. He published his first volume of poems in 1822. Rellstab died in Berlin in 1860.

Heinrich Heine remains among the greatest German poets of his generation. Born in Düsseldorf in 1797 into a prosperous Jewish family, he embarked on a career in business, with the help of his banker uncle, Salomon Heine, but the venture ended in bankruptcy. Subsequent study at the universities of Bonn, Göttingen and Berlin brought acquaintance with a number of leading writers and his own first poems appeared in publication in 1822. An enthusiastic supporter of the Verein für Kultur und Wissenschaft der Juden (Society for Jewish Culture and Science), he completed his doctoral studies at Göttingen in 1825, accepting Christian baptism as what he described as a ticket of admission into European culture. Encouraged by the success of the July Revolution, he settled in Paris in 1831 and soon became associated with the movement known as Junges Deutschland (Young Germany); regarded by authorities in Germany as subversive. His closing years were clouded by illness and final paralysis, with his last poems published in 1854, two years before his death.

A relatively minor figure, Johann Gabriel Seidl was born in Vienna in 1804, worked as a schoolmaster and then entered the government service, one claim to posthumous attention being his modification of Haydn's Emperor's Hymn as the Austrian National Anthem. He enjoyed contemporary popularity as a poet and journalist and six volumes of his collected works were published soon after his death in Vienna in 1875.

Keith Anderson

 

The sung text and English translations (in PDF format) can be found here.

 


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