About this Recording
8.557567 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 28 - Friends, Vol. 3
English  German 

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of poems by Schubert’s friends, Vol. 3

 

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 2008. 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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This recording contains songs to texts from Schubert’s circle of friends. At its centre is Johann Mayrhofer, who was for several years Schubert’s closest friend, with whom, for a time, he shared lodgings. His poetry occupies a central place in Schubert’s Lieder output: Schubert set forty-seven of his friend’s poems (Mayrhofer-Lieder Vol. 1, Naxos 8.554738, and Mayhofer-Lieder Vol. 2, Naxos 8.554739) and only Goethe, with sixty settings, exceeds this number. Together with them are represented the following: Baron Franz von Schlechta, who was, like Schubert, a pupil at the Vienna Stadtkonvikt and later a member of his circle of friends and one of the greatest admirers of Schubert’s art; Matthäus von Collin, similarly a friend of Schubert and, like his brother Heinrich, only a part-time poet and playwright. By profession he was a university professor of aesthetics and philosophy in Kraków and Vienna, a teacher of the Duke of Reichstadt (a son of Napoleon), the founder and editor of the Wiener Literaturzeitung and of the Jahrbücher der Literatur; the political hothead Johann Chrysostomus Senn who, because of his opposition to the authority of the state, was imprisoned and exiled; and finally Heinrich Hüttenbrenner, younger brother of Schubert’s close friends Anselm and Josef; and last, but not least, Schubert himself, with a song setting one of his own poems which he wrote in the family book of events of his friend Schober.

The three songs with which the recording starts, to poems by Schlechta, are masterworks of the mature Schubert. All three evince musical unity and great rigour while also exploring different areas of expression.

In Fischerweise (D. 881) (Fisherman’s Tale) all is vitality, optimism, forward movement and humour. A continuous motoric quaver movement in the piano’s right hand runs through the song. In the repeated sections between the verses there is a simple two-beat motif in the left hand which alternates between the bass and the treble. As in many of Schubert’s songs about water it is symbolic of the importance of opposites, of high and low, sky and deep earth, reciprocal reflection, fusion and, now and then, even reversal—the songcycle Die schöne Müllerin contains countless examples. Here we have Bald wird ein bunt Gewimmel / In allen Tiefen Laut / Und plaätschert durch den Himmel / Der sich im Wasser baut (Soon there is a colourful throng/ in the depths, / splashing through the sky / which is reflected in the water). The voice part is folk-song-like in accordance with the simple nature of the fisherman. It takes up the introductory two-beat motif at the end of each verse and enters into a lively dialogue with the piano. In the last verse, at the appearance of the shepherdess, Schubert is masterly, by delaying by one beat the entry of the voice and then by following it with some small rhythmic variations he illustrates the unexpected, the playfully-thrilling encounter between fisherman and shepherdess.

Des Sängers Habe (D. 832) (The Singer’s Gifts) is a song about the “assets” of an artist, his creativity which, after the legend of Orpheus, is represented by the zither (Orpheus the singer always appears with his lute). The music breaks out with a vehement aggressive phrase, starting with a jagged structure, with a spasmodic exchange between a powerful unison introduction, a powerful sighing development (Schlagt mein ganzes Glück in Splitter … / Shatter all my happiness), and triumphant fanfare-like outbursts (Lasset mir nur meine Zither … Leave me only my zither…); in the following surprising and melodically rich phrases (Und aus ihrem Golde blühen / And from its golden sounds…) and, in the final section with its vision of death a change, on the one hand mysterious dark shades (in den Grund des Tannenhaines … / Deep within the grove of fir trees…) and on the other the bright, almost heavenly sounds (…ihre Saiten rühren kann / …its strings can be played).

It is obvious that Schubert’s strongly-felt inner engagement with this music can be accounted for by the personal circumstances in his life at that time and which he found mirrored in Schlechta’s poem. Following a syphilitic illness which broke out in the years 1822/23, Schubert seemed to be at least temporarily well and while his fame as a composer grew steadily, he must have developed an increased self-confidence which on the other side, through his network of friends and support, made clear his greatest treasure, his strongest and singularly reliable strength, namely his musical genius.

Totengräber-Weise (D. 869) (Gravedigger’s Song) is also an astonishing piece. It develops from a two-beat motivic seed. This is elongated in a strictly symmetrical structure of four beats in the bar in its first and last movements. This motif which moves in regular crotchet chords, reminiscent of a funeral procession, can be heard as four bell notes in the treble and these run through the whole song, constantly repeated. Mirroring the light-dark structure of the poem, between mourning and consolation, death and resurrection, crushing or uplifting judgment on the life of the deceased one, the music alternates between high and low, major and minor, diatonic and chromatic harmony and it reaches its climax at the end of the vocal line, when “…and the bodies rise up youthfully from their graves” (…die Leiber sich der Gruft jugendlich entheben) and in the piano postlude the dead sink down finally in a long gentle downward movement.

The relationship between Mayrhofer and Schubert has already been written about in detail in the booklet notes for Volumes 1 and 2 of the Mayrhofer-Lieder. The songs included here date from the heyday of their artistic friendship, between 1816 and 1820.

Geheimnis (D. 491) (A Secret), written in 1816, is a record of their relationship and yet reminds us that their friendship was not always uncomplicated and plainsailing. Mayrhofer’s poem has the subtitle “To Franz Schubert” and so was written expressly for him. Schubert’s setting, to which he surely felt himself fully committed, must be judged though on account of its variable quality. The opening of the song, though original is not inspired, yet the modulation and melodic uplift at the words Du singst und Sonnen leuchten … (You sing and the sun shines…) sounds infectious and inspired. Mayrhofer’s second verse, with its classical theme of the schilfbekräntzten Alten (…old man crowned with reeds) seems to have had little appeal for Schubert, the music becomes literal and conscientious but the song is uninspired at the end. Had Mayrhofer perhaps come too close to Schubert with this “compliment”? Did Schubert get a whiff of gushing adulation? Or did he just react bluntly to the clumsily literary second half of the poem? We shall never know.

In August 1818, when Schubert was in Zseliz, employed as a music tutor to the daughters of Count Esterházy, he wrote to his friends in Vienna: “Mayrhofer’s Einsamkeit (D. 620) (Solitude) is ready and I believe it is the best thing I have done so far”. Actually the setting of six strophes and counterstrophes in the style of the ancient ode as an extensive ballad seems to have belonged to a longer project, to which Mayrhofer perhaps wrote the text specially, yet this was different from his early substantial cantatas and ballads after Schiller, Ossian and other poets which were composed in sections and without any higher musical coherence in the style of the songs of the idol of Schubert’s youth, Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg. Einsamkeit has its own cyclical form in which the music traces the life’s journey of the protagonist in many details. There is a special cross-reference in the rhythmic and melodic resumption of the opening Gib mir die Fülle der Einsamkeit (Give me my fill of solitude) with the concluding Gib mir die Wehe der Einsamkeit (Give me the consolation of solitude). The “ages of man” are introduced by short headline-like recitative passages and the following arioso sections are combined with the next recitative, producing a coherent musical flow reminiscent of Beethoven’s song-cycle An die ferne Geliebte which is also in six sections. Actually, An die ferne Geliebte could be seen as the model for Schubert’s most important and unique work up to that time and, in certain respects, as his first song-cycle.

Nach einem Gewitter (D. 561) (After a Storm) is a little strophic song which, far removed from sound- and word-painting, sings the praises of the reawakening and self-illumination of nature.

Abschied (D. 475) (Farewell) carries the subtitle “Based on a pilgrim’s song”. Unfortunately the song is not well-known, a fact to which Schubert himself referred. Actually, echoes of pilgrims’ music can be heard in the slow solemn motion and in the dropping thirds and horn-like fifths, so typical of wind music. Otherwise the music is imbued with a calm and moving sadness at the departure of a loved one.

In complete contrast the song Der zürnenden Diana (D. 707) (To the angry Diana) has an enormously difficult piano part and, in its wide-ranging, almost endless and highly expressive vocal lines, makes great demands on the singer. So the work goes right to the edge of “wanting too much”, above all in the long second section (Den Sterbenden wird noch dein Bild erfreuen / The image of you will give me pleasure, even in death) with its undisguised erotic theme and the varied musical descriptions, full of relish, of the death of the protagonist, whom the vengeful Diana has shot with an arrow, after he secretly watched her bathing.

Nachtstück (D. 672) (Nocturne) begins with a polyphonic introduction in the “melodramatic” style, like a mysterious nocturne. The chromatic descent of the bass line, in the tradition of the Baroque “passus duriusculus” (= a somewhat heavy tread), then the expression of pain and mourning, declare a “welcoming of death”, as in so many other Schubert songs. The second section, with its harp-like accompanying figures and its wide-ranging vocal phrases offers the song of the old man and in the closing part we can hear Schubert’s masterly musical evocation of death. The harmony moves slowly downwards, without stopping on the dominant, like a body from which the life-force ebbs away, and finally, in a moving phrase once the major key is reached, slips into the arms of death.

In 1821 Joseph von Spaun, a central figure in Schubert’s circle of friends, left Vienna to take up a post in the Civil Service in his home city of Linz. After he had failed to reply to friends who had written to him, his cousin Matthäus von Collin, wrote him a humorous letter of complaint under the title Herrn Josef Spaun, Assessor in Linz (To Mr Josef Spaun, Civil Service Probationer in Linz) (D. 749) set to a musical accompaniment provided by Schubert in a hotch-potch of styles alternating between the great heroic opera style of Gluck and the Italian bravura aria after Rossini, full of faux-dramatic exaggeration. The success of the undertaking was such that Spaun wrote to Vienna in a letter claiming that they should not keep the latest news from him - “the faithful distant one” – so the complaint was rebutted with a counter-complaint.

The song Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel (D. 702) (The Youth on the Hill) by Heinrich Hüttenbrenner one could call less successful on account of its melodic paucity, with the opening section underpinned by the simplest of accompanying chords as well as the less than convincing final phrase on the words da las er in den Sternen/der Hoffnung hohe Schrift (…then he read in those stars a message of hope). Interestingly enough, one can find in Schubert’s music many examples that he wrote far more brilliantly and in a more inspired way of unattainable paradise than in compositions of real success (for example, perhaps in Sehnsucht (D. 636) (Yearning) in Schiller-Lieder, Vol. 2) that he felt more attuned to writing music of yearning than of hope. In this song there is a moment of great musical inspiration and it is typically that of the greatest sadness: the words weil man sein - Röschen trug (…since they carried his little Rosie) bring about the one and only modulation, really much more an out and out harmonic break, which gives moving expression to the stunned grief of the young man over the death of his beloved.

Der Zwerg (D. 771) (The Dwarf), with its narrative drama, its gripping arcs of tension, from the ominous quietness of its opening to the dialogue between dwarf and princess, right up to the gruesome climax of the murder and the final disappearance of the dwarf into the deep sea, is an absolute masterwork among Schubert’s ballad compositions. Some musical aspects of the piece are noteworthy: the basic structure of the piano part with its melody linked to right hand tremolos and its characteristic rhythm in the bass are closely related to the first movement of the famous ‘Unfinished’ Symphony and also to the first great Suleika song. The bass part of the piano marks out the dramatic development clearly in its alternation between the obsessive four-note rhythm of the dwarf and the gentle cantabile passages of the queen, in the eerie unison passages with the voice (Da trirr der Zwerg zur Königin / The dwarf goes towards the queen, drauf alsobald verghene ihr die Sinnen / and straightaway loses her senses) and finally through the enormously dramatic phrases of the bass-theme in its low register (Doch musst zum frühen Grab du nun erblassen / You must turn pale before your early grave, Der Zwerg schaut an die Frai vom Tod befangen / The dwarf looks at the lady, trapped by death) which is incontrovertibly similar to the ‘fate’ motto-theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Drollery, a demonic nature and erotic obsession find here a compelling musical form.

The poem and composition of Abschied (Lebe wohl!...”) (D. 578) (Farewell to a Friend) are both a farewell and a ‘thank you’, and are addressed to Schubert’s close friend Franz von Schober, in whose house Schubert lived for some time as a guest. Schober had to leave Vienna in order to care for Austrian soldiers wounded in France. In its sombre direct expressiveness, this simple song is completely convincing.

On the subject of the already-mentioned Johann Senn case could be read the following police statement in Vienna in March 1820: “Report… on the obstinate and slanderous behaviour of the suspect Johann Senn which took place in the student fraternity building… on the occasion of the search carried out by order on his lodgings and the confiscation of his papers… It is also reported that his friends Schubert, from the Rossau, and the law student Steinsberg, joined in the affray and attacked the authorised official with verbal insults and swearing”. In the course of the so-called ‘Karlsbad Resolutions’ surveillance, censorship and spying were also the order of the day in Austria-Hungary. Senn had aroused suspicion and his lodgings were searched. As a result of these events he was sent to prison for fourteen months and then banished to the Tyrol. His career was destroyed and Schubert never saw him again.

The song Selige Welt (D. 743) (Blessed World) with its feeling of “courage through despair” might perhaps give an impression, through Schubert’s music, of Senn’s impetuous intransigence and absolute love of freedom. With this work Schubert probably wanted to give a public declaration of solidarity with his banished friend. By contrast, Schwanengesang (D. 744) (Swan Song) is lyrical, infinitely tender and in a constant state of flux between major and minor. It is at once melancholy and comforting and is written in Schubert’s dactylic “rhythm of death”. The touching epilogue, on the universal symbolism of death, is also possibly a metaphor for the enforced silence of his exiled friend.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by David Stevens


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