About this Recording
8.554664 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 5 - Die Schone Mullerin
English 

THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 5

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin

 

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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"What one most admires about the way Schubert set poetry to music, is his ability to find an individual, characteristic style for each different author. His settings of Goethe, Heine, Müller, Mayrhofer, Pyrker and Ossian differ so markedly one from another that any experienced listener can be almost certain as to the identity of the poet without even looking at the words". These perceptive remarks were made in 1901 by Richard Heuberger in his book on Schubert's "life and character".

Wilhelm Müller was born in Dessau, in 1794 and died there only 39 years later. Despite the fact that more than forty composers, including Louis Spohr, Johannes Btahms and Hugo Wolf, set his work to music, he is only remembered today as the poet whose texts inspired Schubert's two song cycles: Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise. During his lifetime Müller achieved renown as a writer and his poems were familiar to many, mostly in the form of songs. Heinrich Heine commented on their popularity among students in his travel journal Harzreise in 1824. He wrote to Müller directly two years later, praising his qualities as a poet: "How pure, how clear your songs are – and all of them folk songs!", and he went on to declare that "There is no other poet, besides Goethe, whom I hold as dear". He, Müller, had shown, "how new forms can be created based on the old, traditional folk song; forms that have lost nothing of the simplicity of the original, but without its clumsiness and awkward use of language".

Wilhelm Müller belonged to the generation of Romantics who, in their enthusiasm for freedom and independence, joined the Prussians, Austrians and their allies in their fight against Napoleon (the so-called 'wars of liberation' 1813/1814). These young men returned hoping to realise their dreams of political change and social improvement, but instead they were met with the rigidly conservative system of an apprehensive restoration. People retreated into the privacy of their homes, found comfort in apparently harmless social gatherings, and lived the life of 'Biedermeier'. Although the hopes that this generation had nurtured were hot entirely extinguished, they could only be expressed through certain channels and, even then, had to be carefully disguised. Over time, the negative aspects of the period were forgotten or ignored and the term 'Biedermeier' came to represent, in retrospect, a comfortable, even idyllic life-style. "Nevertheless," Wrote the art historian Ernst Heilborn, "there is as much evidence of struggle and contention in this as in any other age".

On his return front the wars of liberation Müller resumed his studies, became a member of a poets' society and joined the 'Berlin German Language Society'. Following the trend set by other young Romantics, he went about dressed in traditional German costume and wrote Minnelieder (songs of courtly love). He earned his living as a journalist and literary critic. Whilst travelling in Italy he began collecting folk songs. His first ten Songs from Greece made an impact all over Europe – one thousand copies were sold within the first six weeks – and the pamphlets which followed were equally successful. Together they earned the poet the name Griechenmüller (Müller the Greek). The anthologies were an attempt to attract Europe 's attention to the fight against oppression taking place in its cultural cradle.

Müller also wrote songs in traditional folk style that became very popular among Liedertafeln – groups that met for both social and singing purposes – which were springing up in towns and cities allover Germany. He referred to them as 'political chansons'; a term that would also have been applied to a text such as this: "And he who lives his life in strife and sorrow, let him drink from the old cask of the good old days!". ' Die krähe' (the crow) in Die Winterreise is another of his poems with a political aspect: a 'crow' was a nickname for an informer. The young grass sprouting through the snow symbolises the hopes for an end to the repressive society in which he was living. When Müller recommends in his introduction to Die schöne Müllerin that the poems be read in wintertime, something more than Romantic irony is intended.

Müller's cycle originated in a literary party game organised by a group of talented young people living in Berlin in 1816. They decided to stage a verse drama, each writing his or her own part, on the traditional folk theme: "The Fair Maid of the Mill". The heroine of the piece is wooed by the young miller, the gardener's boy, the hunter and the squire. First she favours the miller, then the hunter. Some of the poems, among them five by Wilhelm Müller, were set to music by Ludwig Berger, who published them in 1818. Müller, in his turn, revised and extended his own part, adding a prologue and an epilogue. His version of the cycle appeared in print in November 1820.

Schubert is supposed to have discovered the poems lying on a friend's desk and to have begun composing practically on the spot. Was it the overall folksong-like tone that fascinated him, perhaps, coupled with the challenge he saw in re-capturing it in music? The first anthologies of Austrian folk songs had recently been published in Vienna – with great success. Composing in the manner of folksongs meant basing the melody for the most part on simple triads, keeping within the range of one octave, and using the strophic form. Among the twenty songs which make up Schubert's Die schöne Müllerin, nine are strictly strophic, and three use an expanded or modified strophic form. He did not set either the prologue or the epilogue and omitted three other poems from the cycle. Prologue and epilogue are in a completely different literary style. Their distancing, rather satirical tone would have lessened the intensity and immediacy of the work as a whole. The other three poems (two of which are ten verses long) would have slowed down the action and added little to the dramatic effect.

The musical symbolism of the accompaniment is easily understood: wave-like figures represent the brook, funeral march rhythms the miller's pain, stereotypical, repetitive, short motifs his inaction; traditional elements of hunting music, of course, for the hunter; tuneful thirds and sixths with little embellishments represent the maid. Yet these simple methods can provide, in the right hands, "an unlimited number of possible variations" (Hans Gál) from the point of view of composition technique. They also offer an intrinsic ambiguity which Schubert exploits to the full. The music depicts the basic situation in the first bars of the prelude as it is described in the text, whilst simultaneously seeking out and illuminating the psychological depths as it explores the emotional state of the protagonists.

The cycle begins with a ' Wanderlied' (hiking song), but it is not a song to be sung when walking. It conveys a feeling of new departures, of restless roaming. The four-bar prelude already contains the kernel of the entire song. In the bass even quavers swing between two octaves, whilst in the middle register the smooth wave­-like movement of the semiquavers run counter to the metrics of the high notes, thus creating the feeling of someone rushing forward and holding back at the same time. Then, above this, the melody with its large intervals unfolds. The change in dynamics at the end of the song makes the wanderer fade into the distance. The piano accompaniment displays its chameleon qualities as the song progresses from verse to verse: it changes – without really being changed – according to the text. It becomes in turn the murmuring brook, the rattling mill wheels and the "dancing" mill-stones.

The brook is the miller's most important ally. It alters its nature according to his mood. This is already apparent in the second song, ' Wohin' (II), when the miller imagines that there is a deeper meaning to the babbling of the brook. The folksong-like vocal line is interrupted by passages with recitative character; the secure smoothness gradually develops into oppressive unease. Schubert frequently subverts or oversteps the boundaries of the traditional folksong in this cycle; whenever he does so it is in direct response to the content and style of the text.

The brook's wave-like motif begins to display its "unlimited number of possible variations" in ' Halt!' (III); partnered with tremolo chords, it portrays the whirring water mill. In ' Am Feierabend' (V) the chords are played twice in quick succession, one soft, one loud, and seem to express both the miller's physical weakness and his resulting emotional pain at not being able to impress the beautiful girl. The brook's stagnant silence in response to the miller's question in ' Der Neugierige' (VI) is created by the unmoving bass notes and the arpeggios in semiquavers. ' Des Müllers Blumen' (IX) exudes an atmosphere of all-pervading peace and stillness; only the harmonic shift gives a dream-like hint of change and possible uncertainty. The brook takes on a quite different role in ' Tränenregen' (X); when the couple sitting on its banks see their reflection in the water, the vocal line and piano bass run counter to each other. At the first drops of rain their images on the stream's surface become blurred and the music moves into a minor key. Following the maid's decision, in ' Eifersucht und Stolz' (XV), to bestow her favours on the hunter, the brook gives vent to the miller's disquiet in seething figures and a stumbling bass line. The miller then tries to suppress his unhappiness with the help of the brook. Obediently, as it were, the key changes again, from the minor to the major. But his attempts are unsuccessful: his disquiet remains, and the stream flows on regardless. It only speaks to him directly in the penultimate song, ' Der Müller und der Bach' (XIX), comforting him with the promise, accompanied by a peaceful, flowing motion and in a major key, that love will triumph in the afterlife, when it "has overcome pain". The brook's melody is a variation on the miller's lament immediately preceding it. Whilst it continues its calming movement, the miller responds with the same lament in the minor, but this time subtly altered by the brook's soothing influence. It is as though he were being gently borne away by the stream.

The miller's mental state is mirrored in the exchanges with and the reactions of the brook; we only ever see the maid, however, through the eyes of the miller himself. In ' Danksagung an den Bach' (IV) she makes her first appearance as the object of his love and possibly the fulfilment of his life's aim. She reappears in clearer musical outline in the four-bar prelude to ' Morgengruß' (VIII): the way in which the miller bids good morning to his beloved and her modest reaction is there for all to hear in the simple, masterly composition. She steps more firmly into the foreground when, the miller quotes her request for the green ribbon around the lyre in ' Mit dem grünen Lautenbande' (XIII). The short prelude portrays her in a playful, teasing mood. The extent to which she dominates the miller's being is shown in the vocal line and through the regularly repeated prelude motif in the piano accompaniment. The maid moves into the background after this, although her hold over the miller is in no way lessened. In the song ' Eifersucht und Stolz' (XV) the stretch of the melody describes her long neck as she tries to catch a glimpse of the hunter. In ' Die liebe Farbe' (XVI), at the words "Mein Schatz hat's Grün so gern" (my love likes green so much), the key changes from B major to B minor, the melody is almost monotonous and the leap up a fourth at the end of the phrase becomes, when repeated, a laborious climb. Right through the song, from the second note to the very last, the constantly repeated F sharp in the semiquavers of the right hand brings a sense of the inexorable. One is reminded, unavoidably, of a death-knell. The young girl is mentioned for the last time in ' Trockne Blumen' (XVIII). The practically lifeless chords in a funeral march rhythm, which are then joined by a flowing melody at the same time as the music changes from the minor to the major, convey the miller's emotional transition from despair to joy as he imagines the fulfilment of his love – in a world beyond death. The piano accompaniment seems to be wavering between a funeral and a triumphal march.

We meet the millet's rival in clear musical terms only once; in ' Der Jäger' (XIV). Schubert has chosen for him a typical caccia fugato with a horn-like melody, but in the minor, for we see him, too, through the eyes of the miller, whose rising anger can be heard in the vocal line until, by the end, it has become blind fury.

Two songs are at the very heart of this cycle. They could not be more different nor closer together. In the song which expresses complete happiness ' Mein!' (XI) every line rhymes with the magical word of the title. In direct contrast to the dense, restricted form of the text, both the pulsating vocal line and the stormy accompaniment rush ahead in unstoppable exuberance. ' Pause' (XII) follows immediately afterwards. Although the eight-bar prelude is relatively long compared to the others in the cycle, it is based on just two short figures. They suggest a forward-movement and yet return very quickly to the beginning. Heard in swift succession, they convey a strange sense of aimlessness, a kind of feigned activity. Even when the piano accompaniment moves on to different figures, the basic nature of the music remains unchanged.

The cycle ends with ' Des Baches Wiegenlied' (XX). Once again Schubert achieves the maximum effect by the most modest means. Surprisingly, it is in 2/2 time, rather than the customary 6/8. In the four-part piano accompaniment the repetition of certain notes in the upper and lower parts confines the gentle movement of the two middle ones; like the banks of a stream, they guide the flow of the unendingly repeated figures. In this aimless, self-absorbed, eternal movement; "Until the sea drinks all the brooks dry", the restless roving of the first song has finally found its counterpart, its goal and its resolution.

Karsten Bartels
Translation: Michèle Lester

 

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

 


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