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8.554666 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 13 - Goethe, Vol. 2
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DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION, Vol. 13
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Goethe Songs, Vol. 2

 

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 2005. 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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"Yearning for tender love is symbolized in music"
-- Women's Songs by Schubert to texts by Goethe

Goethe was happy with the composer who set his poems to music: "He hits the character of such a one, in similar strophes, the whole returning excellently so that it is felt again in each individual part, whereas others, by so-called through-composition, destroy the impression of the whole through emphasizing particular elements." The one who is praised here is, as everyone knows, not Schubert, but Karl Friedrich Zelter (1758-1832) and his simple, plain (today almost completely forgotten) melodies. Franz Schubert would have been counted by Goethe, if he had actually been aware of him, one of those other intrusive ‘through-composers' and for that reason alone in 1816 and 1825 the two collections of settings of his poems, which the Vienna composer had sent to Weimar in search of acknowledgement, had been carelessly brushed aside. Paradoxically the poet, whose works 'fell like sparks of fire in the fresh, youthful, yet completely unprejudiced soul of Schubert' (Eduard von Bauernfeld), could so little relate to 'his' composer. Yet Schubert too had started 'traditionally', completely in the Goethe and Zelter way, but in his Goethe settings Schubert gradually moved away from the strophic pattern, for example with his numerous versions, between 1815 and 1826, of the four Mignon songs from Wilhelm Meister, which had appeared in 1795. The mysterious child Mignon embodies poetry in a prosaic world and is the central figure in the novel. Indeed, Goethe declared that it was 'for this character' that he had 'written the whole work'. 'The special nature of the good child … consists almost in a profound yearning', and this 'reaches into an endless distance', it says in the novel, and in the wanderlust ballad 'Kennst du das Land' (D. 321), that appeared in 1782 and was set by Schubert on 23rd October 1815, is found the exact stage direction for the musical performance of the 'little song'. In the third strophe the song became gloomier and darker' (Schubert changes here into the minor and marks the passage at 'es stürzt der Fels' with a darker unison); 'the words 'kennst du es wohl' she expressed mysteriously and deliberately' (Schubert holds back the music in a fermata), 'in the 'dahin! dahin!' lay an irresistible yearning, and in her 'Laß uns ziehn!' she knew, by each repetition, so to modify it that it was now pleading and urgent, now pressing and promising'. The chromatic triplets of the piano give an 'impulse of forward-striving movement' (Chochlow) and Goethe's concise refrain becomes, through the repetitions of the text, extended to an independent 'somewhat faster' in the music (the word 'dahin' comes six times in Goethe and 33 times in Schubert).

Mignon yearns for 'that place', the south, also in her second song. She sings the painfully monotonous 'Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt' (twelve lines with only two rhyming syllables) together with the Harper, and so one of the six different arrangements that Schubert made of this text was conceived also as a duet for tenor and soprano (D. 877/1). The first of the four settings for soprano was written in two slightly differing versions on one day, 18th October 1815 (D. 310). The second (D. 359) and the third settings (D. 481) were written about a year later, while the last (D. 877/4) is dated 1826. Common to all settings is the three-part structure of the twelve lines of the verse. After the lyrical interlude 'Ach! Der mich liebt und kennt' there follows, the dramatic outburst 'Es schwindelt mir' accompanied by piano tremolo and bold harmonic progressions, after which the song returns to the musical mood of the opening lines, perhaps most convincingly effected in the last treatment. This setting, which was written only at the insistence of the publisher as an alternative to the duet mentioned above, is part of a short cycle with two other Mignon songs, which Schubert published in 1826 as Opus 62 (D. 877), first of all with the poem 'Heiß mich nicht reden, heiß mich schweigen', in which Mignon describes the loneliness and isolation of her 'rootless' being, and which Schubert had already set in April 1821. This first setting (D. 726) was in the 'death' key of B minor and quoted the 'slow pavane rhythm' known in Schubert as the 'death motif'. The second setting (D. 877/2) brings, in the return of the theme ('Ein jeder sucht'), an unexpected shift into the major and forms the end of the song ('Allein ein Schwur') with inexorable piano chords and the expressive repetition '…nur ein Gott, ein Gott', intensified and rising to a fortissimo.

Mignon's last song, 'So laßt mich scheinen, bis ich werde', sings of her tragic end, but also of her hope for enlightenment and redemption. 'With incredible courage' the 'boy-girl' in her white angelic clothing delivers her song of departure and death. Schubert's second setting (D. 727) from 1821 brings a chorale-like, simple declamation of the text in a static, unvaried and 'withdrawn' melody. The final setting (D. 877/3) from the cycle, Op. 62, dispenses with any repetition of the text, apart from the emphatic 'auf ewig' at the end. The F sharp ever present in the first setting as a pedal point (suggesting the 'death knell') comes still more strongly into the foreground; the strange floating and 'dreaming state' (Georgiades) here achieved is only twice interrupted with a heavy forte unison passage and a completely unexpected harmonic shift at the words 'doch fühlt' ich tiefen Schmerz'.

Goethe's poem of 1796, 'An Mignon' (D. 161), can be understood as an authorial (and so here a tenor) 'commentary' on the Mignon figure, confronted in the plot of the novel, and here striving for a sympathetic identification. In 1815 Schubert set the five verses (which do not shun the repeated rhyme of 'Schmerzen' and 'Herzen' …) as a simple minor-key strophic song that, nevertheless, through unexpected changes of key and uses of false cadence, takes on a particular mood of sadness.

Gretchen's songs from Goethe's Faust inspired Schubert, early in his career, to settings. The well-known 'Meine Ruh ist hin', the song 'Gretchen am Spinnrade', D. 118, Op. 2, was written on 19 October 1814, marking the date of birth of the 'modern German song with piano'. In Goethe's play the audience is directed for this scene in Gretchen's room to her restless mood and to her performance of her domestic duties; she can also not prevent her feelings of love that disturb her work, and has to sing against the constant sound of the spinning-wheel. Schubert accompanies the 'monologue in the form of a folk-song' with a monotonous repeated figure (almost an anticipation of the pattern today known as minimalism), which takes its rhythmic shape from the motion of the spinning-wheel pedal. The work only stops where the power of the imagination becomes overwhelming. The musical rondo form, which starts again seven times always with the same prelude motif, reflects the obsessive and melancholy return of the same thoughts. That Schubert once again repeats the opening lines at the end indicates the compelling nature of Gretchen's idée fixe.

Relatively unknown in comparison are two other excerpts from Schubert's unwritten Faust opera. The first fragment shows us the praying 'Gretchen im "Zwinger"', that is at a lonely place on the town walls, where there is 'a devotional picture of the Mater dolorosa'. Unfortunately the manuscript of the song (D. 564), written in May 1817, is incomplete, the pages of the probably finished setting of the last three strophes are lost and do not survive in copies. The existing aria fragment is divided into three independent parts, which are striking above all in their many 'restless' shifts of harmony. Later in the drama there follows Gretchen's entry 'among many people' into the 'cathedral'. This Scene from Faust (D. 126), which takes place during the Requiem and is designated by Goethe as for 'organ and singing', is here rendered as a character song, in which the tenor takes the part of the 'Evil Spirit' ('bad conscience') and of the 'choir', which interrupts the harmonically complex recitative with three chorale verses of the Latin sequence 'Dies irae, dies illa'.

Another stage work of Goethe, conceived from the first with musical accompaniment drew Schubert's attention in his year of song 1815. In the third act of the 1787 'tragedy in five acts', Egmont, Klärchen describes her fluctuating state of mind as she waits for her beloved as 'joyful and sorrowful' ('Die Liebe', D. 210). Klärchen's love for Egmont that Goethe established as 'more in the idea of the perfection of the beloved, her delight more in the enjoyment of the incomprehensible, that this very man is hers, than in the sensual' is depicted in Schubert's song in concise poetic form. After the repetition of the text of the closing lines in the highest register and fortissimo the song dies away with a postlude that prefigures Brahms.

The following four works were also written in 1815. Schubert was immediately captivated by the poem 'Rastlose Liebe' (D. 138), that appears in 1821 in the group of Goethe songs, Opus 5. Schubert achieves an exciting creation of lovesick restlessness through the rapid accompaniment figures, the frequent dissonant harmonies of the accented beats and the irregular arrangement. 'Nähe des Geliebten' (D. 162), which Goethe had written twenty years later, in his 'classical' period, and actually as a new text for a Zelter setting of another poem, also belongs to the same Opus 5. For the text, set time and again, among others by Beethoven, Schumann and Wolf, Schubert created a strophic song, 'slow, solemnly and gracefully' (originally in G flat major) with a notable chromatic piano prelude and rising dynamic level. This leads to the musical climax (literally) of the vocal part, which unusually lies in the first notes and so underlines the opening words of the song, 'Ich denke dein'. 'Wonne der Wehmut' (D. 260) comes from Goethe's earlier Lili-Lyrik of 1775. Schubert's setting, according to Fischer-Dieskau, stands comparison with Beethoven's 'effective music' for the same text. It may be suggested that Schubert's minor setting with its 'sighing' postlude works better than Beethoven's sometimes highly dramatic version in E major. The ballad of the Spinnerin (D. 247) is almost unknown as a poem of Goethe and this lies in the risqué nature of the subject. The broken thread ('gerissene Faden') is to be understood as a metaphor for loss of virginity and with the penultimate verse infanticide is suggested. Schubert's simple strophic song corresponded well with Goethe's idea of song and simplicity.

In May 1817 Schubert composed two other naïve strophic songs. 'Schweizerlied' (D. 559), later ranged among his 'social songs' Goethe had in 1811 sent to Zelter for his Liedertafel. In a pseudo-German dialect, a bold country-girl gives a zoological object lesson in matters of love ('Imbli' are bees, 'Summervögle' butterflies). For this erotic naturalism Schubert uses only two chords and a skipping, stamping dance rhythm.

Textually and musically more demanding is a composition from Schubert's middle Goethe period, the setting of the sonnet 'Die Liebende schreibt' (D. 673) from October 1819. In his sonnet cycle of 1807 Goethe takes on the rôle of the woman writing love letters. Schubert's setting copies exactly the structure of the sonnet, with two pauses at the end of both the first groups of four lines and both tercets set in a different rhythm and separated respectively by fermatas.

The real milestones in Schubert's song-writing come at the beginning of 1821 with the settings of two songs from Goethe's late period collection, the West-östlichen Divan. Today we know that the collection of poems is autobiographically connected with the affair that the 65-year-old poet had with the 30-year-old Marianne von Willemer (Suleika), and that her two poems come from their actual exchange of letters. The songs are to the east wind acting as a messenger of love ('Suleika I', D. 720) and to the west wind ('Suleika II', D. 717). The first Suleika song by Schubert was described by the publisher as set 'in a completely original spirit': 'Oriental ardour is coupled therein with such tenderness that the best impression could not fail to be given'. Brahms held it as 'the most beautiful song … that has been written'. In fact the 'wafting' of the wind is in the prelude, the swelling emotions in the alternations of the accompaniment (similar to the Unfinished Symphony of the same period) an exact representation of the alternation of excitement and 'cooling' through the yearning symbolism of the summer wind. The song of the west wind is similarly acclaimed. The singer Anna Milder, who gave the first performance and to whom the song was dedicated, wrote to Schubert: 'Suleika's second song is heavenly and moves almost every time to tears. It is indescribable; you have brought to it all possible magic and yearning…'. The piano accompanies Marianne von Willemer's text, imbued with the sorrow of parting, with oscillating semiquaver rocking figuration and the rising and falling three-note motif from 'Suleika I'. '…The oriental spirit is also successfully captured in the music. The whole characteristic piano accompaniment supports the colouring of the vocal part. Yearning for tender love is strikingly embodied in this music', wrote the Berlinische Zeitung in 1825.

Joachim Landkammer
English version by Keith Anderson

 

Note: The "Deutsch-Verzeichnis" (which contains all of Schubert's works) distinguishes between "Fassung" (version) and "Bearbeitung" (setting): "Settings" are substantially differing compositions of a poem or text, "Versions" only slightly differing executions of the same composition.


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