About this Recording
8.554738 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 4 - Mayrhofer, Vol. 1
English 

THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 4

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Schubert: Mayrhofer-Lieder, Vol. 1

 

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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Among the many poets whose work Schubert chose to set to music, three stand out as particular favourites: Goethe, Schiller and Mayrhofer. Two great writers, famous in their and our time, and one little-known poet, whose name has since slipped into oblivion - or rather, it would have done so, were it not for the forty-seven settings of his poems which Schubert composed over a period of eleven years. Apart from these, he also began an opera entitled Adrast, and completed a lyrical drama in two acts, Die Freunde von Salamanca, both based on Mayrhofer's texts.

Schubert never met either Goethe or Schiller; Mayrhofer, on the other hand, was one of his closest friends; a man whose literary knowledge and tastes undoubtedly had a strong influence on the composer. Another close friend, Joseph von Spaun, initiated the friendship and artistic co-operation by showing Schubert one of Mayrhofer's poems and suggesting he set it to music. He did so, and composed ' Am See' (D. 124) at the beginning of December 1814. Two years later the acquaintance began to develop into a much closer relationship, a kind of artistic symbiosis, which lasted for four years. During this time they shared their interests, their ideas and their work. Schubert frequently found in Mayrhofer's poems the musical inspiration he was looking for, add Mayrhofer was encouraged by the transformation of his poetry into song to continue writing.

In November 1818, on his return from Zseliz where he had spent his first summer on Count Esterházy's estate employed as a piano teacher to the Count's daughters, Schubert decided to move out of his parents' home and to join Mayrhofer in his far from luxurious lodgings: "Both the house and the room had felt the influence of time. Time had lowered the ceiling and darkened the room by erecting a large building on the other side of the street, add an old, over-used piano and a narrow book-shelf and you have the room which, together with the hours I spent there, will never fade from my memory." (Thus Mayrhofer in his Memories of Franz Schubert). This ménage à deux - which was quite common in those days - lasted two years; a remarkably long time considering the cramped conditions. Then, cracks began to appear. Whilst Mayrhofer remained true to the ideas of the Enlightenment, Schubert turned more and more toward Romanticism, to the poetry of the younger generation, attracted by its exalted mysticism. These two years were a period in the composer's life in which he went through several artistic crises, searching for a new, individual direction. Much of what he composed during this time remained uncompleted. As the two friends drifted apart, so Schubert set fewer and fewer of Mayrhofer's texts to music, and finally, in 1824, he chose a poem entitled Auflösung (Dissolution) as if to signal the end of their co-operation.

Johann Mayrhofer was born on 3 November 1787 in Steyr in Upper Austria. His remarkable talents became apparent already at school: "He was always the best in his class," and showed "extraordinary ability in Latin and Greek, as well as being well versed in the Classics" (Joseph von Spaun). Mayrhofer's father died at a relatively young age, leaving his family without any financial support. Hence, in 1806, at nineteen, his son had to fend for himself and joined the Augustinian canons at St Florian near Linz (later well-known for its connection with Bruckner). He left again four years later, shortly before taking his final vows. Instead, he went to Vienna, where he studied law, surviving on next to nothing. Nevertheless, he managed to complete his studies, whereupon he joined the civil service. Thanks to his literary knowledge he was given the position of official censor in the "royal, imperial book-inspection office". He soon became known and feared among writers and booksellers for his strict adherence to the laws. Mayrhofer found himself having to censor the expression of the ideals he held dear. A believer in the search for a freer society, he was, in daily life, paid to be an instrument of repression, to strengthen the efforts the Austro-Hungarian empire was making to re-establish its power.

Those who knew Mayrhofer describe him as a sensitive man and thus it is easy to imagine how much he must have suffered under this gaping discrepancy. His attempts to overcome it led to an even stricter observation of the censorship regulations. He was fully aware that if he allowed his real opinions to become known, it would mean the loss of his livelihood, possibly imprisonment. "My opinions are one thing, my duty quite another," was the rather terse explanation he gave to Joseph von Spaun.

When Mayrhofer heard the news of the uprising in Poland in 1830 his mood became euphoric; oh learning of the fall of Warsaw he fell into a deep depression and tried to drown himself in the Danube. Six years later his sensitivity had turned to irrational fear and on 5 February 1836 he threw himself from the third-floor window of his office in the Imperial Administration Building. He was unable to face the thought of falling victim to the cholera epidemic which had - once again - broken out in Vienna.

In 1824 Mayrhofer, in response to promptings from friends, published a small number of copies of a collection of his poetry. He had selected the poems carefully, knowing exactly what would or would not cause offence to his colleagues at the "book-inspection department". Much of what he had written had to be kept back. Shortly after his death, a friend who had intended to see to the publication of Mayrhofer's work was afraid that a large proportion would "disappear if it fell into the hands of the police".

Mayrhofer's style, with the exception of his convivial drinking-songs and descriptions of nature, is idiosyncratic and often baffling. It is as though he were trying to conceal rather than reveal his thoughts and feelings. Certain themes and attitudes, his humanitarianism, or his patriotism for example, gradually disclose themselves (to the careful reader). His handling of autobiographical details could almost be called modern: there is a wary distance between the first-person narrator and his experiences. Often the reader can only guess at the meaning. But perhaps Franz Grillparzer, a contemporary Viennese playwright, sums it up best, if not kindly: Mayrhofer's poems "explain their author and their author explains them. It may well be that his friends find them interesting as handwritten testimonies, but for those who do not know him they are riddles, and once the riddles are solved, not worth the trouble they caused in solving."

Schubert and Schober were the only two among Mayrhofer's friends who did not subscribe to his modest publication. Surprisingly, many of the poems Schubert had set to music are not contained in the slim volume. What is more, the many differences between the printed poems and Schubert's song-texts, which were based on the original, handwritten manuscripts, show that Mayrhofer altered his work for publication. In most cases it is not clear why, especially as the alterations are not for the better.

Schubert handled his friend's poetry very differently from that of his other two favourites, Schiller and Goethe. He obviously had no reservations about making frequent and sometimes radical changes. Mayrhofer does not appear do have raised any objections. He was as passionately fond of music as he was interested in literature and learnt to play the guitar so that he could accompany himself at private musical soirées. It is quite likely that some poems were conceived as song-texts from the very beginning, or at least written with Schubert's music in mind. Mayrhofer's comment on ' Memnon' (D. 541), that it "can only be understood through Schubert's music" substantiates this theory.

The text uses the classical legend of Memnon to express the poet's aesthetic concept and his personal suffering. Memnon, the son of Eos (or Aurora), goddess of the dawn, was killed by Achilles during the Trojan war. His spirit was said to be imprisoned in the colossus at Egyptian Thebes, which could be heard every morning at dawn to emit a plaintive "song". Mayrhofer's own voice comes through clearly in the words: "Because my agony is expressed in song, / And I smoothe its sharpness in the flame of poetry, / Mankind believes it is a blessed gift." And in his longing to escape from earthly existence: "far from this hollow hurly-burly. / From spheres of noble freedom, spheres of pure love, / To shine down as a silent, pale star." Schubert transforms this text into a lyrical drama, using unconventional modulation and creating a vocal line which clearly depicts the depths and lofty heights. This song is one of a short series of works with classical themes. Mayrhofer chose them, not only because the literature of Ancient Greece was so familiar to him, but in particular because they provided sufficient camouflage and could be used to express political ideals or personal experiences that might otherwise have been considered subversive. The classics were officially acceptable material for opera and other stage productions and hence unlikely to be suspected of spreading revolutionary ideas.

In 1821 Mayrhofer dedicated a collection of such poems, entitled Heliopolis, to Franz von Schober. Heliopolis, the city of the sun, represents, for the author, a place in which the arts and the ideals of the Enlightenment reign supreme. Perhaps Schubert originally intended to create a "Heliopolis-Cycle" as he gave the texts titles and numbered them. In the end, he set only three of the poems to music (D. 752-754), in April 1822. The fourth, ' Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren' (D. 360), had already been composed in 1816.

In ' Der Sieg' (D. 805) Mayrhofer's theme, "The spirit has broken its confines, / The body's leaden bonds, / And reigns magnificent and free," is expressed without any classical camouflage and Schubert underlines the clarity of the message with an outwardly-directed, homophonic composition.

In his settings of the classical poems Schubert developed musical ideas that were new, not only for him, but for the Lied -form as a whole. He departs from the lyrical and narrative approach with its rounded, melodic phrases and balanced forms; instead, the main thought or reflective mood is broken into subdivisions and takes on the overall character of an aria or recitative.

In ' Orest auf Tauris' (D. 548), for example, a poem in which Mayrhofer very convincingly expresses the thoughts and hopes of the Greek hero on arriving on Tauris, Schubert has composed four very different segments which move from C minor to E flat minor and then to the corresponding keys of B minor and D major. This Lied makes a pair with ' Der entsühnte Orest' (D. 699), composed 3 years later in September 1820. It tells of Orestes' happy return and his accession to the throne of Mycenae. Again, the composition is divided into four parts, each with its own particular figure in the accompaniment. The juxtaposition of ancient myth and contemporary nature is very striking: "With morning roses Spring / Adorns my path." Freiwilliges Versinken (D. 700), in contrast, is a highly dramatic musical evocation of the setting sun. Mayrhofer's interpretation of the rôle of the artist is summed up here in the line "I do not take, my custom is only to give".

'Philoktet' (D. 540) is a far cry from the original Lied form, being closer to a scene from a lyrical drama. Mayrhofer chose to present one moment in the story of Philoctetes; the moment when he is in absolute despair. Ulysses has taken from him his most treasured possession, the bow with the precious arrows of Hercules, and thereby also his only means of survival. There is no hint of his rescue and triumph to come.

The ' Fragment aus dem Aischylos' (D. 450) uses similar techniques and again Schubert (and Mayrhofer) concentrate on one aspect of the text. Neither is concerned with the virtuous man; the music and the poetry depict the fate of the "wicked criminal" who "sinks irredeemably in the river of time" and "unmourned, he drowns".

Whereas almost all the songs with classical themes are difficult to interpret accurately - i.e. in the way Mayrhofer meant them to be understood, ' Liedesend' (D. 473) is clearly a metaphor for the healing power of music - and its limits. "From this cold heart / Music's charm now slips away": the bard's songs cannot touch or comfort a man awaiting death. The listener can hear the harp shatter and the very sound runs "shivering through the air".

In ' An die Freunde' (D. 654) Schubert uses a contrapuntal approach reminiscent of the Song of the Armed Men in Mozart's Magic Flute. In ' Gondelfahrer' (D. 808), one of the four last settings of Mayrhofer poems, composed in March 1828, the mood is much lighter. The twelve strokes of midnight are suggested first of all in the prelude through the unusual modulation between D major and A flat minor, In the song itself they can be heard again in the accompaniment, which sounds as if it could have been written for brass.

Michael Kube
Translation: Michèle Lester

 

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

 


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