About this Recording
8.554796 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 10 - Austrian Contemporaries, 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)
Settings of poems by Austrian contemporaries, Vol.1

 

Taking a general view of Schubert’s composition of songs in their chronological order, it may be observed that from about 1822 classical and pre-classical poets moved into the background, as Schubert more and more turned to poets of his own generation. These were, apart from the late ‘discoveries’ Ernst Schulze (1789-1817), Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827), Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), and Ludwig Rellstab (1799-1860), in the first place poets from his own circle of friends and other Austrian contemporaries, of which Leitner and Seidl are here included. It is true that this group of poets was present in his earlier song compositions, above all in the person of his friend Johann Mayrhofer, who, with 47 settings, is one of the three poets most often set (with Goethe and Schiller). This preponderance in quantity came about, if we leave Mayrhofer out of consideration, first in the 1820s. Thus, with one exception, Drang in die Ferne, all the songs included in the present recording were written during the last three years of Schubert’s life.

Most of the members of this group were only amateur poets, whose work in artistic quality cannot come near that of the classical poets or that of the exponents of German romanticism. Interestingly this is in no way detrimental to the musical quality of Schubert’s settings. Schubert appears here much more, in his absolute mastery of the compositional skills he had acquired, to have reached a new level in a personal, mature voice. The basic condition for his choice of poems to set was for him not a work’s absolute formal polished quality, but rather its genuineness, clarity, the plasticity of its poetic imagery and its message. In short, as with all second-class literary works, these poets spoke their own language, put into words the mood of their time and milieu. From the beginning Schubert had happily worked with the poems of Goethe, with Schiller’s poems of ideas, so difficult to set, he struggled for a long time, in the Ossian songs he developed his dramatic means of expression into an incredibly modern musical language, in the simple strophic songs on works by poets of the Empfindsamkeit (Matthisson, Kosegarten, Claudius, and Hölty) he refined his melodic technique; here he brings the poems to completion, adding, through his music, a depth that can hardly be discerned in the written words.

Karl Gottfried Ritter von Leitner was born in Graz in 1800 and died there in 1890. He studied in his native city and taught in schools in Cilli (Celje) and Graz, later becoming first secretary in the Styrian regional administration and living for a time in Italy. He was known as ‘the Austrian Uhland’. His poems, like Seidl’s, are based on the description and reflection of the everyday things of life, abjuring the flights of intellect of the romantics, their Utopia, eccentricity and mysticism, but part of the Biedermeier period.

Drang in die Ferne (The Urge to Roam) expresses a state of uncertainty between a mood of readiness to depart and the pain of leaving; the departing son is torn between his urge for the wider world and the desire to dispel the sorrow of his parents, and his own. Musically this is expressed in a melodic pattern that in nearly every phrase is at first strongly drawn upwards, but at once falls again, in a piano accompaniment in which the right hand accompanies the vocal part in parallel for one or two bars. In both the last verses of the poem, the mood brightens from A minor to A major, but this is not sustained, as the postlude closes in gloomy pessimism. Before the end, Ach! Und wenn nimmermehr ich zu Euch wiederkehr (Oh, and should I never again return to you), however, we seem to hear the death bell, yet not as in Zügenglöcklein comforting, but uneasy, as though threatening.

Des Fischers Liebesglück (The Fisherman’s Happy Love) seems in some of the piano figuration and the vocal part to be related to Irrlicht (Will-o’the-Wisp) of Winterreise, written just a few months before and recalled in this song. Here too there prevails, beyond mere flirtation, a strangely unreal mood, changing between melancholy and rapture.

In Die Sterne (The Stars) the moving impulse of the whole composition develops from a single, elementary metrical formula in the piano accompaniment, which continues without interruption through the whole song. This is typical of many of Schubert’s late vocal and instrumental compositions, and has often been critically cited in this connection as a tendency to monotony. This criticism is only to be understood if one starts from the conscious, deliberate and controlled development principle of the classical period of music. Schubert embarked here on a completely new path; his music follows increasingly a principle of inherent dynamism that seems no longer subject to the controlling will of its creator, but grows and develops by itself, like a plant that once it has taken root now grows out in all directions. In this way the expansion of the prelude is heard and the harmonic and melodic turns give a clear impression of the ‘vegetative’ compositional style of late Schubert.

Leitner’s poem Der Kreuzzug (The Crusade) is today actually no longer acceptable in its pious and naïve glorification of the world of the crusaders. That Schubert’s simple, chorale-type composition seems not to be absolutely at the height of his inspiration may be attributed rather to his spiritual convictions than to any incompetence as a composer.

Das Weinen (Weeping) appears quite different. The four-bar prelude sinks down, gradually over one and a half octaves. It starts with one voice, imperceptibly expanded and broadened, like a waterfall, as a second, third and finally a fourth voice enter. Alternating consonant and dissonant harmonies dissolve and relax finally into a concluding cadence. This is a true reflection of the poetic imagery, of the comforting stream of tears not oozing away but more and more breaking forth, of the constant wavering between hurt and consolation, finally the release from pain and healing. Only Schubert had the ability to transpose this textual statement into a musical structure, and the brilliance of the procedure goes far beyond the working of the musical mood or overall expression.

Der Wallensteiner Landsknecht beim Trunk (Wallenstein’s Lancer raises his Glass) is a soldier’s drinking-song, singing of combat, blood, killing and German wine. Schubert’s setting is correspondingly vigorous, yet in no way over-generalised. The continuing change between unison and chordal accompaniment suggests a solo singer and a chorus joining in, and the harmony too goes beyond that of the usual standard drinking-song.

Vor meiner Wiege (At my cradle) leads us again to the Irrlicht of Winterreise. The descending fourth from the key note as an opening motif, in the same key of B minor and similarly with the direction Langsam, here forms the connecting link, and at the beginning of both songs there is an uneasy stillness, just as at the end of the poem there is an emerging ‘grave’ motif. Vor meiner Wiege, then, is no cradle song. Here an adult speaks about his childhood and about death. The wonderfully flowering music of the middle section, Dann lachte ich saugend zu ihr empor (I laughed up at her as I sucked) appears with hindsight only as an interlude between the beginning and end of life. At the wish O Mutter, lieb Mutter, bleib lang noch hier (O mother, dear mother, remain here a good while) Schubert repeats the music of the opening, expressing childish solitariness and helplessness, giving the plea a strangely wan tone, hovering between despair and resignation. The song spans an immense range through the contrast between the gloomy outer sections and the middle section, which exudes harmonious and childish pleasure. Perhaps here is an echo of an event in Schubert’s life that had a traumatic effect on the then fifteen-year-old; on the death of his beloved mother in 1812 he was not told by his father, with whom he was involved in some dispute. Since Schubert had not paid sufficient attention to his school tasks, his father had forbidden him to compose and possibly to enter the house. Probably Schubert had never recovered from the loss of his mother.

Der Winterabend (The Winter Evening) begins with a long five-bar prelude that conveys the lyrical, undramatic character of the song. As discussed with the song Die Sterne, here the music does not develop systematically but expands, as it were, in all directions. It is in a form, unusual in songs, corresponding to rondo form, with the sequence ABA - CDC - ABA. As the poem revolves around the speaker, the music too relates always again to itself. It is noticeable how Schubert escapes the Biedermeier sedateness of the scenario with the assurance of a sleepwalker (three lines of the text that are not set indicate his instinct for this weakness in the poem). When it says of the moon, Ist gar ein stiller, ein lieber Besuch, macht mir gar keine Unruh im Haus (He is a quiet and welcome visitor, he makes no trouble in the house), the passage, which could so easily lapse into bad taste, shifts carefully into the formal centre of the composition with a wonderful modulation that leaves the stars sehr leise (very gently) as on an untouched island, a magical moment in bewitching music. With the last entry of the rondo theme, at the words denke an sie, an das Glück der Minne (remember her, and the joy of loving) Schubert brings as a melodic counterpoint in the piano part, as in Wiegenlied, another variation of the Rosamunde motif, which first appeared in the romantic play with music Rosamunde von Zypern (Rosamunde of Cyprus), then in the String Quartet in A minor and finally in the B flat major piano variations. So this seminal theme seems always significant as Schubert’s perhaps most central musical love motif.

Johann Gabriel Seidl was born in Vienna in 1804 and died there in 1875. The son of an advocate, he studied law and in 1829 became a teacher in Cilli (in modern Slovenia), thereafter, in 1840, to become Curator of the collections of coins and antiquities, and, like Mayrhofer, book censor in Vienna, in 1856 Court Treasurer and in 1871 Court Counsellor. He was a collaborator in literary publications, wrote dramas and epics, but above all he was a lyric poet. The Seidl settings here included can in many ways be seen as characteristic of the late period of Schubert’s career.

Am Fenster (At the Window) has as its theme friendship, which was so important and decisive for Schubert. The piano prelude is in one aspect unusual: the melody leads at the third note to a tonic seventh chord and pauses in the middle of the second bar on a fermata; thereafter, at the beginning of the third bar the octave, hitherto, as it were, elusive, is finally reached. As if set free, the melody now sings out, with the prelude expanded to five bars, instead of the usual four. Possibly this asymmetrical arrangement is to suggest the counterpart of the word Einst (once) (sadness, loneliness) and Jetzt (now) (closeness, quiet joy) in the poem, bringing to Jetzt a stronger emotional and musical weight. The whole song has a chorale-like character, a suggestion that for Schubert friendship was a kind of substitute for religion (as many statements and poems from the circle of his friends witness).

In Der Wanderer an den Mond (The Wanderer Addresses the Moon) the greatest vividness and forcefulness of expression is achieved by the simplest means in a folk-style setting. The poem describes a situation from life, probably shared by Schubert himself, that of a wanderer who does not find happiness. In spite of all its apparent simplicity the music follows exactly the meaning of the poem. The song begins, for example, with an up-beat and a rising fourth, as heard in hundreds of folk-songs, ‘I upon the earth’ (Ich auf der Erd); am Himmel du (you in heaven), however, proceeds with the leap of an octave that suggests at once the unattainability of the heavenly wanderer. No folk-song would continue in this way. With the words ‘we both wander bravely on’ (wir wandern beide rüstig zu) the two wanderers are brought together again musically in a simple cadence. In the second, major key part of the song the hitherto syncopated motion of the right hand of the piano accompaniment is superseded by a flowing semiquaver figuration. This is the musical speech of the lightly and freely gliding moon. The image of each in his native land, ‘Happy the man who, wherever he goes, always stands upon his native soil!’ (Glücklich, wer, wohin er geht, doch auf der Heimat Boden steht!) is wonderfully simple and expressed with deep feeling. Here the beauty of the music, however, does not belie the fact that it is impossible for the earthly wanderer to equal the moon.

Das Zügenglöcklein (The Passing Bell) is in varied strophic form. Here too is offered, behind the simplicity of the formal structure, a miracle of compositional complexity. The whole song is dominated by the ostinato of the death knell, that here sounds not menacing but appealing throughout. It is built on a walking bass in the left hand; the dead man is shown as a pilgrim, wandering onward, not as one held motionless in death. Embedded in this is the song melody, starting with small steps, expanding up to the final phrase of the verse, for the first and only time at ‘you reconcile with the world’ (mit der Welt versöhnst), and at the corresponding passage of the following strophes, sounding over the passing bell, reconciliation takes place through and beyond death. It is further fascinating to observe with what slight variations in harmony and melody Schubert in the following strophes sharply moulds the possible changes of character and life of the dead man, as if in silhouette.

Sehnsucht (Longing) is a pure love-song, and, as is first apparent towards the end, music about music, ‘Just look, there is a song already!’ (Sieh da, das ist ja schon ein Lied). The figuration of the piano part and the mood of restlessness that it suggests, have the appearance of a preliminary study for the Erstarrung (Numbness) of Winterreise (The Winter Journey).

Im Freien (In the Open) is more complex in musical structure; the form seems borrowed from classical sonata form, a rare occurrence in romantic art-songs, the melody full of variety. Nevertheless the continuing, never interrupted motion of the piano part gives the whole song a fully uniform, symmetrical, flowing overall look - this music sounds a little like a forerunner of minimalism. Here too as always, the vocal part is, as it were, sheltered, held in, through the high octaves of the piano accompaniment. This place ‘outdoors in the night’s great space’ (draußen in der weiten Nacht) is surely long and deeply familiar to the singer. Once, at ‘Beneath its familiar roof sleeps my dearest friend’ (Unter seinem trauten Dach schläft mein liebster Freund) the purely chordal writing for the left hand of the pianist is interrupted for an important melodic pattern, where the bass of the piano forms a duet with the singer, moving in contrast and together in full harmony, as good friends do, while the upper piano part, as if astonished perhaps at such concord, pauses in its melody and for several bars sticks to the same octave, a poetic and musical moment of rare beauty.

‘For a long time the public has cherished the desire to have from the pen of this brilliant song composer for once a composition of more cheerful, comic content. With the present four songs Herr Schubert unexpectedly meets this desire.’ With these words the publisher Thaddäus Weigl announced the appearance in the summer of 1828 of the Four Refrain Songs, Opus 95, to which Bei dir allein! (With You Alone) and Irdisches Gluck (Earthly Happiness) belong. That Schubert was also skilled in this kind of composition in couplets is shown in the second of these, with music that would have fitted perfectly with the folk-style, partly operetta, partly romantic, of the then popular Ferdinand Raimund’s magic-theatre style. The songs, however, were not comic throughout, with Bei dir allein! written as a pure love-song. For this reason the publisher fell back on the title Refrain-Lieder, in the sense of popular, catchy songs, since Schubert was only partly concerned with the formal lay-out of the compositions.

Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) is again strongly related to earlier Seidl settings. Superficially simple and catchy, it is poetically and musically full of sensual references and connotations. (A detailed and wide-ranging analysis of this song is to be found in the standard work Schubert/Musik und Lyrik by Thrasybulos Georgiades, 1967.) It may be observed that the famous Rosamunde motif is heard at the beginning of the vocal melody, and that Schubert dispenses with the 6/8 metre most frequently used in cradle songs in favour of an alla breve, yet this in no way affects the soothing, constantly calming character of the song.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by Keith Anderson


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