About this Recording
8.554795 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 7 - European Poets, 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 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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Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
European Poets, Vol. 1
I have never forced myself to piety

Franz Schubert
The Homer of the North: Ossian/Macpherson

 

Gloomy and sinister descriptions of battles, of nature, landscapes, stormy seas, howling storms, misty heathland aroused the imagination of audiences, inspiring joy of grief. Barely had the age of enlightenment been defined than people longed to return to the unfathomable truth of myths. Inexplicable stories of the past and fairy-tales that reflect and give meaning to humanity drew and draw interest. The partly true purblind glorification of rationalism of the newer and newest stories needs a counterbalance; ‘Victory and Self-destruction of Progress’, in the subtitle of a book by the lucid philosopher Franz Vonessen, became long ago well enough known and sensitively described. Intuition and imagination are irreplaceable for humanity; already in bards, here Ossian (Oisín, Oisean), lives ‘yet once more the strength of clairvoyance’; ‘what the priests of the Druids could give to humanity lived still in the bards’ (R. Steiner). Ossian’s Fingal’s Cave, ‘a cathedral fashioned by Nature’ (R. Steiner), on a Hebridean island, made famous through Mendelssohn’s Overture of the same name, was washed around by the flowing surge of the sea. Thunderlike music of Nature; alone the continuous dripping of the water on the stalactites gave birth to magic voices.

In 1760 James Macpherson (1736-1796) published his collection Fragments of Ancient Poetry. From his great knowledge of the history, customs and manners of the Scottish Highlands over one and a half centuries came his pleasing adaptations. That the fragments came from his own pen, were imitations, and not, as he claimed, the original work of Ossian, is then of little importance, as philologists, whose historical business is correctness, acknowledged. The value was greater than the material origin and the spreading Ossian mode belonged to the prerequisites of the Romantic in song as in opéra comique (Dahlhaus). Ossianic or Ossian-type songs, cantatas and operas were produced in northern Europe, as in Germany, Italy and France. Ossian, the legendary Homer of the North, inspired Klopstock, Herder, early Goethe, Hölderlin, Tieck, Novalis, Jean Paul, and von Arnim, and resulted in countless musical settings. The Ossian poems are, as described in the old literary history of Hettner, ‘of a freshness of tone, a loftiness of imagery and a depth of natural feeling that often reminds us of the direct boldness of Old Testament poetry’. The ‘genius of Macpherson is only an emotional rather than a purely creative one’. The strongly rhythmical elements of the verses have an effect that is both archaic and something new. Moreover there comes through the legendary blind lonely bard presented, who speaks from the heart, the very creative process itself.

To these fictitious yet very respectable adaptations we owe the early work of Franz Schubert, in a dramatic, harmonic and formal freedom that he never later used. Schubert’s Ossian settings soon became appreciated. ‘Loda’s Ghost, Colma’s Lament and others are happy signs of his inspiration drawn from melancholy heroic poets’ (Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode, 1829).

Schubert treated the text associatively and with illustration, writing pictorial music. The eighteen-year-old composer interprets the ghostly and fantastic through romantic harmony, with daring modulations, and through piano figuration, ranging from the profound sadness of the lament in Cronnan and the stranger forms of Shilrik and Vinvela to the aggressive outcry in Loda’s Ghost. Schubert does justice to the ballad form of these three great songs partly through a constant alternation of recitative and arioso, partly through free through-composition, with a conjunction of lyrical pictures and simple manageable forms (Ossian’s Song, The Maid of Inistore and Colma’s Lament).

Ossian’s Song is through-composed, lyrical and simple, with the return of the opening theme at the end.

Similarly through-composed, Shilric and Vinvela alternates recitative and arioso; subtle in its word-painting, the dialogue-song brings noteworthy harmonic changes. The differentiation in tone-colour, as in the following Cronnan, points to Schubert’s intention of a performance by a male and female singer.

In the through-composed ballad Cronnan we find an orchestral type of piano accompaniment, characteristic in the settings by Zumsteeg, which Schubert studied and admired as a schoolboy.

Loda’s Ghost, in recitative and through-composed, resembles a concise improvisation.

The Maid of Inistore is in three-part song-form; nevertheless the varied ending gives the impression of through-composition. The girl’s death lament, which is also well known from the Opus 17 of Brahms, is partly in arioso and partly in recitative. The diatonically filled interval of a minor third is an expression of care and tenderness and appears nevertheless interwoven with the sounds of nature, of the wind and of animals.

Schubert knew Colma’s Lament in the setting by Reichardt. While all the other Ossian settings are based on the translations by Edmund Baron de Harold, the translator of Colma’s Lament remains unknown. He has turned the prose of Macpherson into strophic verse, thereby creating a completely new poem. It may be observed how Schubert deals with this strophic form and how he achieves pathos and the sublime in Schiller’s sense of the words.

The relationships in the Ossian songs, the kinship, friendship and enmity are not easily manageable. Since the smaller songs deal with unified mood-pictures, their content is immediately intelligible, the appeal to the gods at the death of young Nathos in Ossian’s Song, the death lament in the lyrical The Maid of Inistore and the dramatic form in Colma’s Lament.

The three larger songs are taken from the heroic epic Carricthura. In the present recording they are given in the corresponding order. Carricthura is the name of the city of Cathulla, a friend of Fingal; the latter is the father of Ossian; he appears as a mighty and just king and warrior and is the principal character in the epic. Fingal has set out with his warriors to free the city, but the terrible spirit of Loda, the Scandinavian storm and weather god, also known as Odin, is on the side of the besieger of the city, opposes Fingal and invites him to fight. This is where Schubert’s setting of Loda’s Ghost begins, after Fingal’s victory. He is victorious over the besiegers and over their leader Frothal, in single combat. The epic ends with a celebration of rejoicing and reconciliation of all the participants. Alone the spirit of Loda remains powerless and contemplating revenge.

The two other songs appear as interludes in the story, telling of the meeting between Fingal and his followers and the bard Minona and with Cronnan: Shilric and Vinvela and Cronnan are ultimately tragic duets between the loving maiden Vinvela and the huntsman she loves, Shilric, who has joined in the war.

A great world-famous fantasy novel of our own time seems notably influenced and inspired by the Ossian-Macpherson epics, from the names of the leading characters to the meticulous and almost scientific creation, from extensive interconnections in plot to the dramatic structure with its typical alternation of epic episodes and dramatic moments, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. The reception of his work also offers amazing parallels with the Ossian fever of two hundred years ago.

Walter Scott

 

The setting of Ellen’s Third Song, starting with the Ave Maria, must be one of the most popular and best known songs in European music. The text of the song comes from Walter Scott (1771-1832). To the tradition on which this is based belong the old ballads of the border country between Scott’s own country of Scotland and England. The verse epic The Lady of the Lake, from which Ellen’s and Norman’s songs and the song of the imprisoned huntsman are taken, made Scott a best-selling writer, with four editions and 20,000 copies sold in a single year: Scott fascinated his readers. The principal setting of the poem, the Scottish Highland Loch Katrine, became a tourist attraction. The Lady of the Lake appeared in numerous translations; readers were captivated by the depictions of the struggle for freedom, rebellion, hunting scenes, jealousy and love, envy, heroism and generosity.

The story takes us to the Scottish Highlands and tells of the struggles of the rebellious Scottish nobles, the Highlanders, against King James V. Lord Douglas, whom we meet also in the famous ballad Archibald Douglas by Löwe, hides with his daughter Ellen on a lonely island in the loch. The king, who has become lost while hunting and is unrecognised, has been received by Ellen into the castle and she, for her part, does not reveal her name and family. To soothe and comfort the weary hunter-warrior she sings him two ‘magic-songs’, Ellen’s First and Second Songs, in which Schubert in his composition reflects in detail enough the particular situation in the story: above all in the first song we hear a lullaby of the most wonderful kind, the comforting mood of which is yet given a feeling of danger through the ever and again gently recurrent war-like sound of the hunting horn, threatening peace, in the piano part, a musical suggestion that two mortal enemies are face to face in this seeming idyll.

The situation on which the third setting, Norman’s Song, is based is equally dramatic: the news of the beginning of the war against the king will be given through the signal of a fiery cross, born through the Highlands: all men fit for battle must immediately gather at the meeting-place of the army. This is what happens with Norman, who has just led his bride to the altar and now, at the church door, must leave his beloved, not knowing whether he is to die or come back again. At this dramatic point in the story the force with which Schubert’s setting overwhelms the listener and makes him pause is evident: the expression of the inner conflict of a man, who can do nothing but embark on the flight that lies before him.

Ellen’s Third Song too, even the famous Ave Maria, comes from a situation that is anything but idyllic: Ellen, for fear of the wild leader of the rebels, Roderick Dhu, whose love she does not return, has taken refuge on a wild rocky tract above the loch. From afar Roderick, before he goes to battle, listens once more to her song in the night, swearing, in despair, that it must be for the last time.

The Song of the Imprisoned Hunter comes finally, after the king has secured victory. Archibald Douglas has voluntarily given himself up and been imprisoned and Ellen goes to the city to beg the king’s mercy: she hears her beloved singing from the prison tower. Yet Walter Scott gives a happy ending: Douglas is pardoned, Ellen can embrace her betrothed, who had fought with the rebels and of whose whereabouts till then she had known nothing.

The literary qualities of the novel are not always of such a high level: still less effective are the German translations by D. Adam Storck that are used in Schubert’s songs, where Scott’s texts appear stilted and artificial (qv. M.J.E. Brown: Schubert: A Critical Biography). So much the more remarkable is Schubert’s achievement as a composer, by general restriction to a small number of motifs, which he develops. Without great variety, by the choice of musical elements that provide contrast, he achieves a high measure of continuity and tension; the underlying material at the beginning of a song, created from the over-arching mood of the literary subject, is subtly led to the development of the respective individual single lyrical forms. With Schubert’s melodic and harmonic skill semiquaver triplets in the piano and rhythmic dotting in the vocal line are enough to bring the Ave Maria (Ellen’s Third Song) to its remarkable development. Rhythmic ostinato in Norman’s Song, marked geschwind (quick), suffices to realise the dramatic condensation, as in the Romance of Richard Lion Heart, taken from the novel Ivanhoe of the same period, thus allowing his love for his bride Maria to shine through. Note groups of two semiquavers that stand before a quaver are enough to suggest battle (Ellen’s First Song), dotting in quadruple time (Ellen’s Second Song) to connote the hunt, augmentation of the same rhythmic archetype also appears, though, to convey the idea of rest from the hunt.

The two other songs taken from Scott’s poems, the Song of the Norn and the Song of Anne Lyle, follow the same monothematic compositional principle. The former, sung by a ghostly being, gives a foretaste of the mythical world of the Flying Dutchman, while the second song is a woman’s confession of fidelity to her distant lover. Again rhythmic ostinato, coupled with apparent melodic simplicity and refinement of harmony, bring a strong, almost irresistible sense of urgency.

If the style and microstructure of Scott’s poems has been criticized, his cast of mind is to be respected. Goethe expressed his regard for Scott in 1827, on reading all Walter Scott’s Napoleon: ‘as he, looking over the Channel, sees this and that differently, so we from our limited position on the continent see what is to me a new experience, a new insight into and view of the world.’


Piety

Schubert had little to say about denominational religion or piety, and yet he based his life on a faith of a very individual stamp. On 28th March 1824 he noted: ‘With faith man enters the world, it comes long before understanding and knowledge; for to understand about something, I must first believe something - understanding is nothing else but faith analysed’. In 1825 he travelled with his singer friend, Michael Vogl, through Upper Austria. In July Schubert wrote from Steyr to his father and stepmother about the success of his newly written settings of Scott: ‘My new songs in particular provided . . . very much happiness’. This letter has often been quoted, but never in the context of the passage that follows. Schubert, who had hardly taken a proper part in the religious life of the time, continues: ‘There was also some surprise at my devoutness that I expressed in a hymn to the Blessed Virgin, and that, as it seems, touches everyone and moves them to piety. I believe that comes from the fact that, while I never force myself to piety, and, except when I am instinctively overcome by it, never set hymns and prayers of this kind, when I do, however, it is usually right and true devotion’.

What lies behind this idea? The following observations from the past may serve to help us understand. Two generations earlier ‘piety’ (Andacht) was in general ascribed to any music that deserved the name. Johann Mattheson, the leading music theoretician and aesthetician, wrote: ‘For keyboard pieces and trivial entertainment on instruments, particularly on the keyboard, God has given no music, just as little as he made feet to dance on a tight-rope; except that his wisdom applied through such gifts should serve to lead us men to piety and to permitted pleasure’ (Das Neu-eröffnete Orchester, Hamburg, 1713).

Later, having meanwhile become deaf, he describes piety as a function of attention, ‘so far as it directs heart and soul to the service of God’, ‘since, as in the special presence of the all-holy Being . . . it certainly banishes all other dissolute thoughts . . . every licentiousness committed through carelessness and such a natural human disposition through which one is, in one’s thoughts, in another place’ (Der Vollkommene Capellmeister, 1739).

In the book Von der musikalischen Poesie (Of Musical Poetry) published in 1753 by Christian Gottfried Krause the sense of music is described as ‘piety’, also as ‘Sprache der Affekten’ (speech of the affections) and ‘Vergnügen des Gemüthes’ (pleasure of the mind). Piety here is not ‘moving of the heart to God. Gratitude, love, joy, longing, hope and trust activate respectively the mind of a devout person. All contemplation of the works of God, seen and unseen, present and future, give the poet the chance to move us to devotion’.

In the period between the late Baroque and the Romantic, the word itself does not change, but, parallel to the conception of music, its content. Even the Mass is now, in the Romantic period, no longer an ‘invitation to private piety. It is no longer a matter of the words as they sound nor the intended [religious] meaning, but a certain mood . . . It does not depend on the sound of the words, but on the unidentifiable musical essence, on the inner feeling, the uplifting’ (Th. Georgiades, Musik und Sprache (Music and Speech), 1954). What our musical ancestors called piety is perhaps not the most inappropriate attitude through which a romanticism such as that in Schubert’s settings of Scott is expressed.

Matthias Thiemel
English version by Keith Anderson


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