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8.555780 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 11 - North German Poets
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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 North German poets

 

The North German poets represented here are, in various respects, important in the context of Schubert’s songs. Some of them inspired him to compositions that are numbered among his most brilliant. Schmidt von Lübeck’s Der Wanderer (The Wanderer) in Schubert’s setting became one of the most frequently performed songs of the nineteenth century. Others provided subjects for compositions that show us an unknown and unusual aspect of Schubert. Finally one of them wrote the poems for nine songs that can be regarded as forerunners of Winterreise (Winter Journey): the poetic work of Ernst Schulze is, however, stylistically as far away from the classical as from the romantic, the earlier Empfindsamkeit or the Biedermeier. The poems resemble Wilhelm Müller’s Winterreise texts and Schubert’s musical settings underline this close affinity.

Ernst Schulze was born in 1789 in the North German town of Celle and was dead by 1817. He was a private teacher of philology in Göttingen and the author of many poems, among them a Poetisches Tagebuch (Verse Journal). The autobiographical information contained there, in poetic form, came about largely under the influence of his engagement to Cäcilie Tychsen, who was a good pianist and an interpreter of Bach, and of her early death at the age of eighteen. Other poems, for example Lebensmut (Courage), appear in connection with his experience as a volunteer in the war of liberation against France.

The settings of Schulze, written between March 1825 and 1826, provide an unusually compact group of songs, almost a cycle. Their uniformity springs on the one hand from the literary subject and the confessional yet profoundly poetic tone, and, on the musical level, from Schubert’s almost continuously monothematic method of composition that develops each song from an initial impulse, a motivic and thematic basic idea. His music is here of stronger forcefulness, persistence and plasticity, rising to aggressive vehemence, as in Über Wildemann (Above Wildemann), or can turn to oppressive sadness, as in Tiefes Leid (Deep Sorrow), or to incredible tenderness, as in Um Mitternacht (At Midnight). This integration of expression was only possible with a strong inner relationship between poet and composer, and Schulze’s poetic and real life themes were certainly akin to Schubert’s.

Auf der Bruck (At Bruck — On the Bridge) is an impetuous riding song, comparable in its dramatic impetus to Erlkönig (Erl King), written ten years before. Ever and again shades of colour appear through the repeated chords (und freundlich wird ein fernes Licht … [and friendly will be a distant light], manch Auge lacht mir traulich zu … (Many an eye laughing catches mine) von Lust und Leiden [of joy and sorrow]) and prevent the monotony that is so menacing.

An mein Herz (To my Heart) depicts the attempt to master unrequited love. The characteristic tone of resignation of the poem (es ist ja des Himmels Wille [It is Heaven’s will]) with Schubert’s nervously throbbing music, never reaching repose, has a dimension of bitterness that develops the idea of latent rebellion. The abrupt changes through the whole song between minor and major generate an impression of inner turmoil between resignation and revolt.

A strong musical contrast marks the song Tiefes Leid (Deep Sorrow). The restless movement of the first part is superseded by the comfortable harmonic serenity of the second. Schubert’s strophic setting strengthens the impression of the irreconcilable difference between this and the other world. It is noteworthy too that Schulze’s poem carries distinct atheistic traces: Nicht wird der kalte Stein mir sagen /ach, daß auch sie mein Schmerz betrübt (There will be no cold stone to tell me, ah, that my pain grieves her too). Schubert’s music represents this fatalistic statement as comforting. That this, through the strophic structure of the composition, comes about as positive is here no mistake, but intentional.

Im Walde (In the Forest) again has the theme of restlessness (as a consequence of unfulfilled love). This time the forward impetus rises to a degree of the obsessive. Brighter idyllic islands remain an unattainable goal and the eyes of the wanderer turn again and again towards them in his own state of despair.

Der liebliche Stern (The Lovely Star) shows an ‘inverted world’ with its picture of the star reflected in the sea. The music symbolizes, with its descending intervals in the bass of the accompaniment and the downward melodic patterns of the vocal line, the rush of the poet into the deep, to death — laßt tief in der wallenden Kühle /dem lieblichen Sterne mich nahen (Let me, deep in the surging cool waters, draw near to the lovely star). Similar motifs of the opposition between above and below, high and deep, are found in Die schöne Müllerin (The Miller’s Daughter). Probably these were not only individual psychological metaphors but also a reflection of the social upheavals of the time.

The image of the distant beloved, to whom one must in one’s thoughts build a bridge (through the wind, the stream, the moon or the twinkling of the stars) is a central motif of romantic poetry, at a time when there were no cars or aeroplanes, nor telephone and e-mail. This theme often inspired Schubert to music of supernatural tenderness, the most famous example being Die Taubenpost (The Pigeon Post) from Schwanengesang (Swan Song). In Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) the magic of memory reveals a paradox: while the text begins with the words Keine Stimme hör ich schallen/keinen Schritt auf weiter Bahn (No voice do I hear sound, no step on the path), the music proceeds already in the prelude — and through the whole song — nevertheless in so easy and intimate a way that this wanderer’s foot never touches the ground. The ethereal and at the same time sensual nature of the flights of thought of the night are inimitably translated into a musical structure.

Lebensmut (Courage) exudes an exuberant strength of self-confidence and zest for action seldom before found uninterrupted in Schubert’s songs. What Schulze’s poem suggests, the music takes up head-on. Yet it appears this affirmative character is not as inspired as the other Schulze settings. It seems also strained, almost cramped in its apparently unbroken optimism, which was not the case with Schubert, either in his life or his music.

Im Frühling (In Spring) is an example of how Schubert reached the purest expression of love where the beloved was remote and unattainable. He composed the poetic combination of nature idyll and memories of love in a varied strophic form, in which variation involves not development but varied repetition. The I of the poem returns at the place wo ich an ihre Seite ging (where I went at her side). Nevertheless the change to the minor in the fifth strophe — Es wandeln nur sich Will und Wahn … (There change only will and delusion …) reveals the shadow that lay over the situation from the beginning, Vorüber flieht der liebe Glück, /und nur die Liebe bleibt zurück, /die Lieb’ und ach das Leid (Away flies dear happiness, and only love remains behind, love and, ah, sorrow). Schubert’s music takes this declaration of the poem at its word with a sudden burst of dark restlessness and seriousness, far away from all sentimentality. (If one sets this against his own real life, one finds certain events on which they could be based, starting with the relationship with his mother and the traumatic circumstances of her death, then his love for Therese Grob, up to his syphilitic illness — this last might also give rise to sarcasm, since sarcasm was not foreign to Schubert.) The return of the music to the idyll of the beginning cannot drown out what the poem clearly says. Now it is an illusion: O wär ich doch ein Vöglein hier … (O if I were a bird here …) So the music of the ending is literally too beautiful to be true.

Über Wildemann (Above Wildemann) imparts sheer despair, bitterness, anger and indignation daß selbst am Steine das Leben sprießt /und ach! nur Eine ihr Herz verschließt (that life springs from the very stone, and ah! only one keeps her heart closed). To the sarcasm of the poem the music reacts with a vehemence that takes away the breath of the unprepared listener.

Johann Friedrich Rochlitz was born in 1769 in Leipzig and died there in 1842. He was one of the first advocates of Beethoven and founder of the Leipziger Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, at the time one of the most important critical voices on matters of musical trends, composers and compositions. Schubert too was indebted to it for some detailed reviews that brought him to the attention of a wider audience.

The Klaglied (Lament), with its pervasively dark, sentimental, sighing feeling, is typical of many of Schubert’s early songs. Here, as in some other gloomy, often terrifying songs and ballads, a ‘normal’ young man writes of the sorrows of puberty in heartfelt tones: Hagars Klage (Hagar’s Lament), Des Mädchens Klage (The Maiden’s Lament), Leichfantasie (Funereal Fantasy), Der Vatermörder (The Patricide), Der Geistertanz (The Ghosts’ Dance) are typical titles of his earliest songs.

An die Laute (To the Lute) is an intimate but humorous serenade, an obvious combination of simplicity and compositional mastery.

In Alinde, over an insignificant barcarolle-like accompaniment figure in the piano, there appears, as if by chance, a tender, playful motif, which returns as a ritornello in the course of the song. The melodic shape of the vocal line, with simple broken triads and progressions of a second, conveys an impression of folk-music style, but at the same time adjusts very precisely to the metrical structure and narrative mood of the poem. In the music the recurrent echo effects are particularly charming.

Christoph August Tiedge was born in 1752 in Gardelegen and died in Dresden in 1841. Schubert set his An die Sonne (To the Sun) in a simple chorale-like style. The piano accompaniment imitates a brass ensemble.

Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué was born in Brandenburg in 1777 and died in Berlin in 1843. He was representative of German romanticism and author of the fairy story Undine that enjoyed enormous popularity and served as the basis of operas by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Albert Lortzing. The Lied is taken from Undine. Schubert’s simple musical setting, almost reduced to nothing, gives a peculiarly exact impression of the desolation of parents deserted by their child.

Der Schäfer und der Reiter (The Shepherd and the Horseman) shows strong contrast between the galant trifling of the pastoral idyll and the angry roughness of the war-like horseman motif. The characters appear, poetically and musically, not as individuals but as stylized figures.

Don Gayseros I-III is in several respects a strange work, and seems to be so untypical for Schubert that its authenticity was long in doubt. In the course of the fourteen strophes a simple musical motif from the first verse wanders without any variation through the circle of fifths, a symbol of the tentative play of question and answer between Donna Clara and her secret admirer. The music moves as if beating about the bush. Original to the second part is the change of scene from the gentle nocturnal serenade to the fiery southern love-song — according to the admission of Don Gayseros, he is a Moorish king. The conclusion of this part is a fragment. After a recitative section with an account of the events of the night, the music ends the third part with a simple, strophic-like structure. In Don Gayseros Schubert seems to have attempted to find a simplified, clear ballad style after the earlier generally uncontrolled and chaotic ballads that he had written.

Born in 1773 in Pomerania, Karl Lappe was a school-teacher in Stralsund, where he died in 1843. His poem Der Einsame (The Recluse) is the embodiment of the Biedermeier. Self-sufficiency, a peaceful country life, the scorned crowd of the noisy world, chirping crickets, no cliché is left untouched. It is fascinating to notice how Schubert at the same time uses and undermines this pretended idyll. This is introduced by the piano prelude, with the bass melody modelled on the bassoon, with figures that have traces of the humorous and whimsical, and of parody. Then there are two sudden dynamic outbursts, Allein das Böse wirft man hin (Only the bad is thrown aside) and Was in dem Schwarm der lauten Welt /das irre Herz gefessen hält (What in the crowd of the noisy world holds the confused heart imprisoned), that disturb the cosy atmosphere. At the end should we wonder at the almost excessive musical settings of ganz allein (quite alone), with the preceding nicht (not) falling, as it were, under the table, Schubert’s subtext to Lappe’s poem?

Im Abendrot (Sunset Glow) is proof of what Schubert himself said of his kind of religious feeling, namely that ‘I never force myself to piety, and, except when I am instinctively overcome by it, never compose such things as hymns or prayers, but then it is usually true and right piety’.

Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck, who was born in that city in 1766 and died in Hamburg in 1849, led a restless and varied life, one typical of the time. After study of law and medicine, he was, among other things, a doctor and alienist, secretary in the Danish government service and finally a bank director. His many poems were known and read with pleasure.

In Der Wanderer we meet the prototype of the wanderer in the nineteenth century. His trail leads us to Wotan, the Wanderer, in Wagner’s Ring. The fame of the song shows that it expresses a fundamental mood of the time, signified most strikingly perhaps by the word Heimatlosigkeit (homelessness) in the widest sense. Schubert in places made marked changes in the text of the poem; it seems to have been important to him to stress the exact meaning of the poem, as he felt it. This begins already with the title, which was originally Der Unglückliche (The Unhappy One). Further changes, which altogether strive to intensify the meaning, are the repetition in Und immer fragt der Seufzer: Wo, immer wo? (And always I sigh and ask: Where, always where?), and the completely altered closing line of the third strophe, where, instead of und alles hat, was mir gebricht (and has all that is lacking for me) are the words O Land, wo bist du? (O land, where are you?), which produces a violent disruption of the metre. The musical development corresponds to this, with the emphatic rise from the beginning of the strophe, Das Land, das Land so hoffnungsgrün (The land, the land so green with hope) broken by the despairing question wo bist du? (where are you?). The final Dort, wo du nicht bist, dort, ist das Glück (There, where you are not, there is happiness) brings a comment in the wonderfully simple melody of the postlude; this simultaneous beauty and darkness brings about a dichotomy that is perhaps central to Schubert’s songs: sadness over paradise lost.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by Keith Anderson


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