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8.554740 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 6 - Schiller, Vol. 1
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THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-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 unquestionable 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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Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of poems by Schiller, Vol. 1

 

When in 1787 Friedrich Schiller first visited Weimar, the residence of Duke Karl August and a place so important in German cultural history, it was because of the ‘three Weimar giants’, Christoph Martin Wieland, the elegant poet of the rococo, who soon took to his heart his Swabian fellow-countryman, 26 years his junior, the court preacher Johann Gottfried Herder, who had made a name for himself by his collection of folk-songs, and, naturally, the youngest and most charismatic of these ‘giants’, Goethe, who was then on his famous Italian journey. Today Goethe and Schiller are the embodiment of the Weimar classical period, to which the double statue in the Theaterplatz bears witness.

Schiller was the son of an officer and was born in 1759 at Marbach-am-Neckar, not far from the magnificent capital of Württemberg at Ludwigsburg. From 1773 to 1780 he attended the strongly disciplined military Pflanzschule, later the Hohe Karlsschule, an elite academy established by Duke Karl Eugen of Württemberg, who showed no compunction in recruiting talented boys from his dukedom. Schiller next turned to the study of law and then of medicine. Poetry in this academy so cut off from the outer world was for him, with his love of freedom, a means of expressing his hatred of tyranny and an important outlet. Here his first dramatic work took shape. With the sensational first performance of Die Räuber (The Robbers) in Mannheim at the beginning of 1782, a work that soon became a symbol of Sturm und Drang theatre, Schiller won fame overnight, although he was for a long time unable to secure his material position through his work as a poet.

Schiller had been forbidden by the Duke to write and was obliged to escape by night to Mannheim in the Palatinate, but his hopes of gaining a foothold there as a theatre poet came to nothing. There followed years in the circle of Christian Gottfried Körner in Leipzig and Dresden. Meanwhile Schiller had devoted himself to historical studies and in these he became absorbed during his first period in Weimar. As a result in May 1789, when he was not yet thirty, he became, surely unusually, professor of history at Jena, an appointment in which Privy Counsellor Goethe seems to have had a hand. In 1791, a year after his marriage to Charlotte von Lengefeld, the first attacks of a severe illness made themselves felt. This adversely affected his activity as a teacher and from then onwards cast a shadow over Schiller’s life, since he knew that he had not many years left him. For some time he had put aside his work as a poet. His intensive exchanges with Kant, that began in 1791, led finally to his series of philosophical and aesthetic writings and it seemed to him that through these studies he must find the way back to poetic composition. It was only in 1795 that Schiller wrote a poem again, the first since 1789. With Wallenstein, which took on the dimensions of a great trilogy, he won back, in work that took from 1796 to 1799, a position in the field of drama. His return to poetic composition was certainly stimulated by his increasingly close friendship with Goethe. In 1799 Schiller returned to Weimar to have experience, as he himself said, of the theatre and in his last years he devoted himself above all to the continuation of his work as a dramatist, culminating in Wilhelm Tell, his last completed play. He died on 9 May 1805.

Schiller’s poetry never won the same fame as that of Goethe, apart, of course, from the great ballads such as Der Taucher (The Diver) and Die Bürgschaft (The Pledge), in earlier times learned by heart, which are firmly established as an essential part of German literature. Schiller himself, in his maturity, self-critically compared himself with the ‘Weimar giant’ in the often quoted complaint ‘In comparison with Goethe I am and remain a poetic nobody’. Today difficulties in dealing with Schiller’s poetry cannot be dismissed, and his work sometimes comes across as strongly moralising and sometimes as intellectually overcharged. It is in relation to Goethe, who often wrote intuitively from personal experience, psychologically, as it were, that we may speak of Schiller’s poems, particularly in view of the great philosophical works, as intellectual. ‘Almost always it is the poet that comes upon me when I should philosophize and the philosophical spirit, when I would write poems’, he once admitted to Goethe. Often the reading of Schiller’s poetry calls for a considerable knowledge of mythology and the exuberance of his language, leading Richard Strauss once to confess in a letter to his special liking for Schiller’s hymns, today perhaps seems difficult.

As the poems of Schiller for the most part do not have the same degree of popularity as Goethe’s, so Schubert’s settings of Schiller came and now come after those of Goethe, and this in spite of the number of settings of Schiller that include incidentally more different versions of a whole series of poems similar in number to those he set of Goethe. It may be supposed that the great homogeneity of Goethe’s poems better meets the requirements of musical setting. Nevertheless Schiller’s work inspires Schubert to higher levels of musical expression.

Schubert’s song-writing falls into the period of musical history when there was a fashion for through-composing, as E.T.A.Hoffmann, a thorough exponent of modern musical aesthetics, expressed it in 1814 with marked reservations. The true song current with contemporaries was the strophic song, in which every verse of the poem was to be sung to the same music, which meant that it was not possible to express the shades of meaning of the poem or the particular nuances of the text. The new ‘fashionable’ principle gave the composer more flexibility since he was not confined to the strophic structure and was able to give a more personal turn to the music. The freedom with which Schubert often went to work in his settings is noteworthy. In a review in 1824 of Opera 21-24 for the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, the leading musical publication of the early nineteenth century, it was said that he claimed not to write songs in the usual meaning of the word and would not do so, but free songs, often so free that they might be called caprices or fantasies. That could rightly be said of several of the Schiller settings. Altogether there is clearly an extraordinarily broad spectrum of strategies in Schubert’s settings of Schiller, ranging from the simple strophic song to the inclusion of varied strophic elements and different forms of through-composed settings, leading to dramatic compositions of nearly half an hour in duration, like Der Taucher. It almost seems that in his settings of Schiller, as far their structure suggests, Schubert regarded these texts as a field for formal experiment.

Punschlied (Drinking Song) is certainly musically the simplest song here included. Schubert has treated the poem from 1803, in Schiller’s later creative period, with its twelve verses, of which three are recorded on the present release, as a plain strophic song. The regular structure contributes to the folk-song character of the setting, with each of the four-line verses set in two bars. Schiller’s poem, rather than being merely a social genre piece on the joys of drinking, is a song in praise of the strength of the human spirit, since the North, with its climate, does not allow the production of wine, but hot punch has been invented. As Schiller’s final verse says:


Drum ein Sinnbild und ein Zeichen

Sei uns dieser Feuersaft,

Was der Mensch sich kann erlangen

Mit dem Willen und der Kraft.

(Then a symbol and a sign

Let this fiery drink be for us,

What man can achieve

With will and strength.)


Die Entzückung an Laura (Enchanted by Laura), a passionate love poem from the poet’s Sturm und Drang period in 1781, is also a strophic song, but of a completely different kind. The four verses which praise her look, then the beauty of her voice, her grace in dancing and finally her look again, which can bring rocks to life, have six lines each. Schubert makes of this two longer verses. The continuous triplets in the right hand of the piano accompaniment give the setting an external feeling of unity, yet with a richly pulsating inner life. This is evident in the free treatment of the structure of phrases. The first three lines are set in four bars respectively, while the fourth and fifth lines, of the same length as the first, take up two each. Perhaps in doing this Schubert wanted to bring out the accelerando suggested in the second of the long strophes:


Rascher rollen um mich her die Pole

Wenn im Wirbeltanze deine Sohle . . .

(The poles revolve more swiftly about me,

As your feet in the whirl of the dance . . .)


The character of the song is also achieved through the unusual flowing melodic lines, which reach a high point in the emphatic slower declaration of the closing lines.

In Der Jüngling am Bache (The Young Man by the Brook), as Schubert set it in 1819, the poetic and musical verses again correspond. The five-bar piano introduction, with its resigned falling contour, functions, quite traditionally, also as an interlude setting of the different verses of the poem, written in 1803, as does the piano postlude. Schubert has avoided providing a special musical setting for the vision of the last verse and has kept for the whole song the elegiac strophic pattern, to suggest that the emphatic ideas of the young man are plainly utopian: the fair maid (schöne Holde) will not leave her proud castle (stolzes Schloss).

Dithyrambe, which appeared in June 1826, is presented as a spirited strophic song with a continuing pattern of accompaniment. Here the regular metrical structure of the three verses and the uniformly elevated tone of the reproach called for a quasi-formal treatment. The title of the poem, from 1796, refers to a form of ancient poetry in praise of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus (Bacchus), known as a dithyramb. Dithyrambe is a poem about the divine inspiration of the creative artist, who enjoys the company of more gods: after Bacchus, Cupid and, responsible for the art of poetry, Phoebus Apollo. At the beginning of the third verse it might be thought that Jupiter is speaking; he charges Hebe, the goddess of eternal youth, to fill the poet’s cup with nectar, the drink of the gods, and to moisten his eyes with heavenly dew so that he need not look on the Styx, the river of the underworld. Schiller’s allegory suggests that the artist who receives inspiration from the gods should achieve immortality in posthumous fame.

Der Alpenjäger (The Huntsman on the Mountain), written in October 1817, can be taken as a kind of double-strophic song with a free final section. The first three of the eight six-line verses of 1804, all with the same rhyme scheme, present a dialogue between mother and son, the latter strongly drawn on to the height of the mountain (nach des Berges Höhen). Within the strophic pattern Schubert shows the opposing views of the two through sharp contrasts in tempo and movement (the two first lines of the son strongly recall the beginning of Der Wegweiser (The Signpost) in Winterreise (Winter Journey)). The next verses show the young man hunting a gazelle on the mountain and for this we have a new strophic pattern in 6/8, the traditional typical time-signature of the hunt, that indicates the wild activity through a gradual intensification of movement in the piano accompaniment. The seventh verse makes use of the same music, taken up by the piano (perhaps suggesting the mute gaze of the animal at bay). In the middle of the verse, however, Schubert returns, with the sudden introduction of the direction Langsam (slow), to duple metre, abandoning the musical path he had been following in a change to a coda, just as Schiller indicates through the word plötzlich (sudden) the unexpected final point, as the spirit of the mountain, the old man of the mountain, makes known his appeal for peaceful coexistence in the words Raum für alle hat die Erde (Room for all has the earth).

Der Flüchtling (The Fugitive), composed in 1816 – the poem of 1781 was originally entitled Morgenphantasie (Morning Fantasy) - at first gives the impression of a varied strophic song: the second statement of the singer, Mit freudig melodisch gewirbeltem Lied (With joyful melodious swirling song) continues with the same melodic phrase as the beginning, but the piano accompaniment takes on a significantly faster pace. Soon the melodic line diverges from its original course and in the next phrase of the singer, Sei, Licht, mir gesegnet! (May you be blessed, light!) it becomes clear that we have moved in this song into the field of the through-composed. A good half of the song is devoted to the description of a nature idyll. Very interesting, therefore, is Schubert’s reaction as a composer to Schiller’s view of civilisation, Wie hoch aus dem Städten die Rauchwolken dampfen! (How high the clouds of smoke rise from the towns!). Here there is music of sparer texture in 3/8 with the indication Geschwind (Fast). The last sections of the poem, which bring a turn towards bitterness in the fugitive, are musically separate: the light of dawn shines only on einen Totenflur (a landscape of death), the whole nature idyll is only a background for the restless, homeless fugitive, the forerunner of the wanderer of the Romantics.

With Laura am Clavier (Laura at the Keyboard) we come again to an early Schiller love-song, written in 1781. Since the great collection of poems, the Canzoniere of Petrarch (1304-1374), Laura has been the embodiment of the unattainable beloved, whose favour the poet continually seeks in a whole variety of ways. It is quite idle to speculate as to whether Schiller’s Laura, as the poet once later half jokingly suggested, concealed the person of his landlady in Stuttgart, Luise Dorothea Vischer. Laura is a literary figure. Schubert set this poem by Schiller freely, like Die Entzückung an Laura from the same period, and for this the slightly irregular structure of Schiller’s poetic form, with different lengths of verse, may be responsible. What Schubert offers us at the beginning of his setting is not the usual prelude to a song but a short piano piece in a cheerful major key that represents the wonderful piano-playing of the beloved, the girl stylized as an enchantress. When afterwards the protagonist appears, the singer can only express himself in recitative; he is so moved by Laura’s playing that he is deprived not of speech but of song, zur Statue entgeistert . . . steh ich da (struck dumb as a statue . . . I stand there). First in the second verse the singer can actually turn to song, which unfolds over an uninterrupted piano accompaniment of quavers. The remote keys that run through the setting may signify the range of music at the command of the musical enchantress Laura. This musical power leads us, as an example in the middle of the song, to a semitone below the key of the whole song. Schubert has clearly expressed in his music the metaphors from nature with which the poet describes the playing of the one he adores, the murmur of the silver-bright stream in the gentle quaver figuration of the right hand or, as at the end, the organ-sound of thunder (des Donners Orgelton) with powerful fortissimo chords in the right hand and great octave leaps in the left. Inspired by Schiller’s poetic contrasts, Schubert deliberately gives up the musical unity of a strophic setting. At the end the poet asks whether Laura’s playing that seems to him so supernatural is the language spoken in Elysium, the heaven of the ancient Greeks. The composer here again turns to recitative. To the direct question Laura gives no answer, but Schubert lets it sound out once more in Laura’s heavenly ‘Impromptu’ from the beginning.

Elysium is a key idea in Schiller’s poetry, symbolizing the desire for a better world. A poem from the period of the Laura poems, interestingly enough with the title Kantate, has the word written above it by the young poet. Elysium must be accounted one of the most remarkable of the Schiller settings; here the full range of different poetic images must have inspired the twenty-year-old Schubert to a kind of through-composed work particular rich in contrasts. Each verse has its own musical image completed by some piano bars fading away or finishing; characteristically for the reaper of the fourth verse, lost in his dreams, whose sickle falls from his hands, there are extended strong beats in the vocal part and in the right hand of the piano accompaniment: the music seems to stand still. The partly differing lengths of line in some of the verses, moreover, as, for example, the opening lines, of course make a strophic musical treatment impossible. This song is also marked by a wider harmonic range and Schubert goes beyond the usual modulations with a tendency to the mediant everywhere observable. The last verse with its apotheosis of married love is aptly treated by Schubert in a broadly developed final section with a continuing repetition of the last line, Feiert sie ein ewig Hochzeitfest (It celebrates an eternal marriage banquet). The final treatment extends the first syllable of ewig (eternal) for almost ten bars, thereby suggesting to the ear the potentially infinite duration of celestial love.

At least as expressive is Schubert’s setting of Schiller’s Der Kampf (The Struggle). Here Schubert, in 1817, shows complete technical mastery of the technique of through-composition. The poem of 1785 depicts the spiritual struggle of a man who feels morally that he must give up a woman who is for him unattainable but who clearly returns his love. Yet now he would let his private pact with virtue go for nothing, so overpowering is the burning ardour of the heart (des Herzens Flammentrieb). Schubert has treated this particular moment vividly – und lass mich sündigen (and leave me to sin). In the long-held word ‘lass’, in the harmonic movement and in the urgent syncopation of the piano are shown the feelings of the lover, no longer to be controlled by moral decisions. With direct dramatic force the first verse takes its course: a short, energetic, extended, dotted motif, that passes through various harmonies, with dynamic changes, a constant alternation of forte and piano bars, provides the structural material for the piano part, over which the agitated lyrical protagonist expresses himself in ‘muscular’ extended phrases. The third verse begins with angry and rapid figuration in the piano, as if with an attitude of disdain: Zerrissen sei, was wir bedungen hat (Let us tear up our treaty). After the general pause at the end of the repeated opening lines, the direction of the music changes, with the knowledge that his love is returned. The short recitatives inserted by Schubert serve very effectively here, at the beginning of the sixth and last verse, to hold back the momentum before the violent reaction against tyrannical Fate (tyrannische Geschick), supported by the tremolo in the bass of the accompaniment, a Fate that dispels finally for our hero, with repeated, almost formally shaped D minor cadences, his virtuous resolve. Der Kampf belongs also, finally, to the series of Laura poems. An earlier surviving longer version of the poem has the title Freigeisterei der Leidenschaft (Freedom of Spirit in Suffering) and the descriptive subtitle Als Laura vermählt was im Jahre 1782 (At Laura’s wedding in 1782). We have a reference to Schiller’s relationship with Charlotte von Kalb, the wife of a major, whom he had met in Mannheim in 1784 and later seen again in Weimar. The question arises as to whether the song too is a reflection of personal experience.

With the setting of Schiller’s 27-verse Der Taucher (The Diver), which comes from the Ballad Year of 1797, when he engaged in a kind of noble contest with Goethe in this form of writing, we enter the world of musical ballads, as they were known to the young Schubert, and others, through the work of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg (1760-1802). Schiller’s Der Taucher is a parable of human hubris. After having been miraculously saved from the depths of a whirlpool, the brave young squire hopes for a second such gift from the gods. The King invites him to leap into the depths a second time, promising his young daughter in marriage, and the poem is also concerned with the King’s cruel desire for human experiment, with his knowledge of how to use his position of power. Schubert’s setting was made in 1813/14 and he completed a second version at the beginning of 1815. For so large-scale a musical project a composer cannot write an ordinary song. The course of the setting always changes between simple recitative sections, in which direct speech or narrative is expressed in neutral tones, and wildly agitated piano writing and music, where it depicts the threat of the sea, the power of the whirlpool or the terrors of the deep. The musical means that Schubert calls upon here appear substantially to be inspired by orchestral writing: rapid semiquaver runs, syncopation and tremolo figuration. These extrovert musical passages need a formal counterpoise, as it were, in sections of more restrained and nuanced writing. A musical dramatic scheme of this kind is suggested naturally by Schiller’s poem. Among the most impressive passages in the Schubert setting are those from the end of the eighth verse onwards, where the sea in revenge has closed mysteriously over the brave swimmer (geheimnisvoll über dem kühnen Schwimmer). Here the mood of brooding anxiety is superbly captured in the music. The vivid setting of this ballad does not lack moments of effective musical illustration, for example the incisive C flat major chords that make the listener feel fully the yawning chasm (gähnenden Spalts) of the seventh verse. The composer is most effective in piano writing that is often able to emphasize and give light and shade to the course of the story, finally through the prestissimo and fortissimo interlude, extended and depicting the roar of the waves, after the young squire has leapt a second time. Not only can the pianist depict, at first in detail and then with a violence that promises nothing good to come, the raging sea, through tremolos and wild arpeggios, and afterwards suggest the ebbing away of morendo. He can also indulge in an expressively plaintive instrumental recitative that basically anticipates the end of the ballad. In this last verse Schubert tenderly suggests the loving look (liebenden Blick) of the Princess into the deep, through the echo of this in the piano and through a repetition, with modified intervals, of the line of the text, intensifies the gesture of urgent entreaty, as the diver is lost. This song, the longest that Schubert wrote, ends in the foaming of the waves, with some muted bars for the piano.

Wolfgang Gersthofer
English version by Keith Anderson


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