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8.554799 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 9 - Friends, Vol. 1
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Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of poems by Schubert's friends, Vol. 1
Utopia and World-Weariness

 

Settings of poems by Schubert’s friends, Vol. 1Utopia and World-Weariness

The poetic horizon of Franz Schubert and his songs is reflected again in the poems of his circle of friends. Altogether Schubert set even more poems by his friends than he did those of Goethe or Schiller, by far the most distinguished poets. More than two thirds of these texts come from his closest friends, Johann Mayrhofer and Franz von Schober. While Mayrhofer, with about fifty settings, comes in third place after the two great classical German poets, Schober, with eighteen compositions, thirteen of them songs, stands on a par with Friedrich Schlegel, the leader of the German romantics. These quantitative comparisons are evidence of the essential quality of Schubert’s poetic creed: the songs on texts by his friends combine the idealistic feeling of the classical with the Utopian longing of the romantic. The echo of a ‘better world’ (besseren Welt) resounds particularly in Schober’s poems, yet under conditions of pessimism. The poetry of Schubert’s circle was not only under the influence of classical-romantic cultural inspiration, but showed in particular the symptoms of world-weariness spreading throughout Europe about 1820.

This late romantic phenomenon, that associates the poems of the circle with those of Heinrich Heine and Wilhelm Müller, has deep roots in contemporary history. Schubert and his friends were witnesses and victims of a period of systematic suppression of idealist endeavour. After the end of the Napoleonic wars the European powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815 determined on the restoration of absolutist government. The Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 had finally resulted in the repression of movements towards freedom. The revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity appeared no longer attainable. The consequent dreary reality of life plunged Schubert’s generation into an existential crisis. Yet Schubert’s circle of friends returned to a Tugendbund (League of Virtue), which, after the model of the poetic leagues of eighteenth-century friendship, paid homage to virtue and country in the service of a humanistic conception of man. Seminal to this circle was the Vienna Stadtkonvikt, a boarding-school for grammar-school boys, students and court chapel choristers. Schubert was at the school from 1808 until 1813 as a choirboy. Schober too, with whom Schubert later lived together for several years, had, while a student at Vienna University, moved in the same milieu. Schubert gathered there not only a practical knowledge of musical performance and of repertoire, but in productive exchange with his friends also acquired a literary stimulus towards the composition of songs. The creative relations with amateurs of the arts and cultivated men such as Josef von Spaun, Josef Kenner, Johann Senn or Albert Stadler enabled Schubert in this elite institution, in which he seemed a prisoner, to share the aesthetic experience of cultural freedom.

In the 1820s the Schubert circle took its form not only in the famous Schubertiads, as those that Moritz von Schwind has handed down in idealised form in his picture A Schubert Evening at Josef von Spaun’s. It also met in a Reading Society inspired by Schober. Here Schubert could become aware of the poems of Heine and Wilhelm Müller. Through political publications and contacts with student societies the circle often found itself in conflict with the authorities.

While most of the friends accepted the yoke of government service, Schober, like Schubert, sought to be a free creative artist. Schober dabbled as a writer, an artist and an actor. After Schubert’s death he was a travelling companion of Franz Liszt. As a diplomatic counsellor in Weimar in 1854 he saw, together with Liszt, to the first performance of Schubert’s opera Alfonso und Estrella, the libretto of which he had written himself. Literary success, however, was only granted to Bauernfeld, not as a lyric poet but as a writer of comedies. For the others social cultural activities were a liberal refuge, an island of the blest in the police state of the Austrian Chancellor Metternich, known as the Fürst von Mitternacht (Prince of Midnight). Yet the hope itself that the longed for ‘better world’ would at least be realised in art, proved an illusion. The songs brought together in the present recording document the total character of this disillusionment. The characteristic of the poems of Schubert’s friends is their fragile idealism, which appears particularly in their imitative quality. The character of resignation in the 1822 song Schatzgräbers Begehr, D761, (Treasure-Seeker’s Desire) can be seen from a comparison with Goethe’s motivically related poem Der Schatzgräber, which Schubert had set in 1815. Schober’s sonnet seems a negative inversion of Goethe’s optimistic poem. ‘Trinke Mut des reinen Lebens!’ (Drink courage of pure life!) is what Goethe has to say. Schober’s treasure-seeker on the contrary buries his hope. Musically this is expressed particularly in a lament bass, a chromatically descending bass line, which often returns. This well known pattern from the musical rhetoric of the seventeenth century is not alone in giving expressive character to the song, but seems also to depict the laborious digging. The change to the major after a concise central section proves fragile: in the autograph Schubert suddenly changes the chord in the penultimate bar to minor, and here too in the later second version, without a change to the minor, the song ends with an empty fifth.

In similar fashion Schober’s ballade Schiffers Scheidelied, D910, (The Sailor’s Farewell) recalls motivically the great example of Goethe. Here too there is preparation for departure. While the seaman in Goethe’s Sturm-und-Drang hymn Seefahrt (Voyage) trusts ‘his Gods, in shipwreck or on land’ (scheiternd oder landend, seinen Göttern), Schober’s sailor is afraid of the sea: ‘Do I know whether I shall succeed / and return home victorious? / The wave that sings now luring me on / is perhaps the very one that will swallow me’ (Weiss ich denn, ob ich’s vollbringe / Und siegreich kehre heimatwärts? / Die Welle jetzt so lockend singt, / Vielleicht ist’s dieselbe, die mich verschlingt). ‘Consolation’ (Trost) for him means only the ‘friend in the paradise of home’ (Freund im heimischen Paradies). It seems that the age-old notion of the crossing as a motif of salvation in the period before 1848 that stood for the expectation of a new, better time, meant clearly that the leagues of friends in Schubert’s milieu had lost much of that heroic-idealistic feeling, as expressed in Schiller’s ballade Die Bürgschaft, set by Schubert more than ten years before. Friendship had become much more a last refuge and had taken, in a form of ‘paradise’, the character of a pseudo-religion. So far it must also be no surprise that the compositions of February 1827 have a direct connection with Schubert’s moving in with Schober, who, in his new place, put two rooms and a music-room at his disposal. Although Schubert had never himself experienced the elemental force of the sea, his setting captured it with direct pictorial strength. The two quieter passages modulating to the major form no particular contrast; in spite of the now calmer movement of the accompaniment there remains an underlying trembling. The more lyrical line of this passage returns finally in the last of the five passages: ‘…And if then the false wave washes / Me up dead again on the flower-strewn shore, / So shall I know that in that dear place / There is still one, one true pair of hands…’ (Und spült dann auch die falsche Welle / Mich tot zurück zum Blumenstrand, / So weiss ich doch an liebe Stelle / Noch eine, eine treue Hand…). In the wider biographical context the composition may be taken as Schubert’s reaction to the incurable nature of his own, now advanced illness.

The biographical context also of the song Pax Vobiscum, D551, of April 1817 testifies to a Platonic conception of friendship: although with a Latin and supposedly liturgical title, it is a spiritual song based on a German text by Schober. Because of its simple devotional character, with the direction Mit heiliger Rührung (with holy feeling), it was not only in the circle of friends that the song enjoyed great popularity. At Schubert’s funeral on 21st November 1828 Pax Vobiscum was heard at St Joseph’s church in the Margareten district with a paraphrase by Schober, arranged for choir and wind instruments. Yet for friendship Schober also found other expression: in Jägers Liebeslied, D909, (Huntsman’s Love-Song), it appears allegorically as erotic-demonic love, associated ‘with every happiness that there is now on earth’ (mit allem Glück … / Das nur auf Erden ist). Finally the political aspect, which since antiquity has been associated with friendship, is specifically expressed in a Grablied, D218, (Funeral Song): the text by Josef Kenner is a farewell from a broken heart (zerriss’nes Herz) and the vain ‘battle for freedom’ (Befreiungsschlacht). In a different way from the princes of Europe, the comrades kept faith with the warriors who had fallen in the service of their country (für’s Vaterland).

Kenner’s ballad Der Liedler, D209, (The Minstrel), provides a view of the conflicting feelings of Schubert’s circle, a song for which Moritz von Schwind made twelve sepia sketches in the autumn of 1823. Schubert’s setting was made in 1815 at the Vienna Stadtkonvikt and dedicated to his friend the poet. Kenner, who was later an official in Linz, recalled: ‘There [in the school] were his earliest compositions first tried out and discussed and there was I surprised by the dedication of the Liedler that he handed me. You cannot possibly imagine my feelings at this honour, this dedication and this truly friendly gesture, if you know neither my respect for Schubert’s artistic ability nor my opinion of my own very modest deserts…’. During this period Schubert was intensively concerned with the ballad compositions of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg (1760-1802). In spite of many connections there appears, nevertheless, in this early work a completely personal character of expression, which is brought out in the later publication of 1825: ‘This ballad…is not only a worthy companion to the celebrated ballads of Zumsteeg, which aroused general enthusiasm in their time, but outdoes these both in liveliness of expression and originality’. Striking in Schubert’s composition is the structure. The various passages, which often depict particular scenes, are separated from each other by recitatives; in cyclical relationship the second passage returns again at the end, ‘The minstrel went through many a land’ (Der Liedler zog durch manches Land) and ‘Journey, minstrel, journey on for ever’ (Fahr, Liedler, fahr auf ewig wohl). Even so, certain vivid moments stand out in the composition (his departure with sword and armour, or, corresponding to that, the later plunge down from the cliff); continuing motivic features are not yet fully developed. As the figure of the artist the minstrel embodies at the same time the ideal and the reality characterized by Goethe and Schiller for the following generation: the artist as martyr and outsider and yet as moral sovereign in the face of feudal society. The menacing werewolf is a reminiscence of the wars of liberation of 1813-14. In the political poetry of these years Napoleon was described as the wolf. With this background the ballad Der Liedler bears witness to the sad memories of the liberation of the country by crowds of young volunteers, whose commitment in the end had not led to the promised prize of civil freedom. Kenner represented this vain heroism in the romantic guise of knightly martyrdom in another ballad, Ein Fräulein schaut vom hohen Turm, D134 (A maiden looks down from the high tower): the sacrifice of the rescuer is vain, he cannot save his noble maiden (edle Maid) from death (in the context of the war of liberation the ‘loyal maiden’ is the symbol of German loyalty and therefore of an embodiment of the nation).

Two years later, in 1817, Schubert set a poem by his father’s friend and patron Josef von Spaun: Der Jüngling und der Tod, D545, (The Young Man and Death), clearly a sequel to his earlier setting of the Matthias Claudius poem Der Tod and das Mädchen, D531, (Death and the Maiden). The title itself, with its two complementary figures, not only suggests the two-part conception of the text but also that of the musical setting. In particular the second part, with a quietly moving motivic and rhythmic element in the piano in

D minor/F major brings a clear and unmistakable reminiscence of the Claudius setting, made shortly before. Spaun’s new emphasis in the text is worthy of note, not dominated by fear of death but rather by a longing for it: ‘Lead me gently to the land I dreamt of / O come and touch me!’ (Entführe mich leicht in geträumte Lande / O komm’ und rühre mich doch an!). On the other hand Eduard von Bauernfeld’s cradle-song Der Vater mit dem Kind, D906, (The Father with the Child), testifies to the hope associated with the romantic motif of children that the ‘time past’ (entschwund’ne Zeit) may some day return as abiding happiness.

That art may be able to lead from the exile of the earthly to the heavenly homeland is finally stated in Schober’s hymn An die Musik, D547, (To Music). Praise of the transforming effect of art allowed it to be forgotten that its spiritual meaning had been lost. This dilemma of art in the post-1815 period of political Restoration, the conflict between Utopia and resignation, is documented also in the concluding songs with texts by Franz von Bruchmann, An die Leier, D737, (To the Lyre) and Der zürnende Barde, D785, (The Angry Bard): after the departure of the heroes there remains only the ‘love in their sounds’ (Liebe im Erklingen), as a symbol of a ‘better world’, or that melancholy expressed in the songs Genügsamkeit, D143, (Contentment) and Am Bach im Frühling, D361, (By the Brook in Spring): ‘peaceful happiness’ (friedliches Glück) is here only imagined, as ‘longing’ (Sehnsucht) or ‘memory’ (Erinn’rung). This loneliness is expressed in Schober’s poem Pilgerweise, D789, (Pilgrim’s Song): the pilgrim goes with his ‘strong pilgrim’s staff’ (harten Wanderstabe), like many other singers in the wake of the romantics. Profound doubt in an existence fulfilled through the mind became the poetic creed of the world-weary generation. In the song dedicated to Albert Stadler, Der Strom, D565, (The River), the anonymous text of which has, among others, been ascribed to Schubert, are the words: ‘My life rolls on, grumbling,… / Yet never finding what it seeks, / And, always longing, rages on, / Unsatisfied it rolls on in constant flight, / Never happy, never cheerful…’ (Mein Leben wälzt sich murrend fort, / …Doch nimmer findend, was es sucht, / Und immer sehnend tost es weiter, / Unmuthig rollt’s auf steter Flucht, / Wird nimmer froh, wird nimmer heiter…).

Michael Kohlhäufl and Michael Kube
(English version by Keith Anderson)


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