About this Recording
8.557831 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 25 - Romantic Poets, Vol. 2
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THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 25

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of Poems by Romantic Poets, Vol. 2

 

About The 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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Two poets, who, in very different ways, were celebrated, respected and the objects of controversy at the beginning of the nineteenth century as fellow-creators of German literature, stand at the centre of the present recording. These are, from the beginning of the romantic period, Theodor Körner and August Wilhelm Schlegel. The two were as completely different in personality, career and creative activity as was the romantic period itself, with its multifarious, distinct and contradictory tendencies. This applies as much to literary romanticism, which lasted no more than about 35 years (1800-1835), as it does to the romantic involvement in music, which had a long life-span of some 80 years (1820-1900).

That Franz Schubert, who, together with Carl Maria von Weber, can be designated the first of the romantic composers, should choose romantic poets for his songs seems obvious, even self-evident. Yet at the start of his career as a song composer there are other poets, above all, naturally, Goethe, who unintentionally and, if he had been asked, unwillingly, helped, with his poems 'Gretchen am Spinnrade' (Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel) and 'Erlkönig' (Erl King) (Naxos 8.554667), an unparalleled revolution in the genre of German song, followed by his brilliant poet colleague Schiller, and the poets of the Empfindsamkeit, Matthisson, Klopstock, Hölty, Claudius and others, and finally the widely known and admired Ossian poems of the Sturm und Drang movement. This body of poetry formed, in Schubert's time, the canon of the cultured middle class, known, read and recited. The romantic poets, on the other hand, were of the avant-garde, emerging before the public, wanting to travel new paths in literature, striving for recognition not only through the publication of their works but, as above all in the case of August Wilhelm Schlegel, through theoretical writings and lectures on aesthetics in general and on the essence of romanticism in particular.

Schubert had his first contact with this movement through Theodor Körner. The latter was born in 1791 in Dresden and grew up in the cultured environment of his parents' house (his father was a friend, patron and correspondent of Schiller). He came to Vienna in 1811 and was already appointed poet of the Court Theatre by 1813. He was also in contact with Schubert and would have strengthened the latter's desire to become a composer. As a volunteer in the campaign against the Napoleonic army of occupation he articulated in his political poems the love of freedom and courage in the struggle against every form of tyranny. 'Lützows wilde, verwegene Jagd'(Lutzow's wild, bold chase) in Carl Maria von Weber's lively and effective setting, is even today a popular show-piece of German male chorus repertoire. Körner was a member of Lützow's Free Corps and with his heroic death in 1813 became a kind of posthumous pop-star of the nineteenth century. Körner's Lyrik der Befreiungskriege (Poems of the War of Liberation) does not sound at all romantic to modern sensibilities, but it is very well understood as a product of the romantic spirit of the time. Besides this he wrote poems on 'general human' themes, stylistically shifting between the hymn-like ('Sehnsucht der Liebe' / Love's Longing, 'Sängers Morgenlied'/ The Bard's Morning Song, and 'Liebesrausch' / Love's Intoxication), romantic irony ('Das war ich'/ It was I) and the comic in the style of a Nestroy or Raimund ('Liebeständelei', D. 206 [Track 5] / Flirtation, 'Das gestörte Glück', D. 309 [9] / Luck Ruined). For these poems Schubert provided unspectacular but completely appropriate music, with absolute assurance, changing between musical flexibility in underpinning the text and individual pointing. Only 'Auf der Riesenkoppe', D. 611[1] (On the Riesenkoppe), conceived by Körner as a song in praise of his homeland and set by Schubert in 1818 as the last of his Körner songs (the others all appeared in 1815), is compositorially ambitious in structure: after an enthusiastic introductory recitative, arioso and recitative sections alternate and give the song a cantata-like form.

'Sehnsucht der Liebe', D. 180 [2], with its two-part structure – a slow, quiet, 'nocturnal' introduction, followed by a strongly felt section – achieves a heightened dramatic effect. Yearning is here expressed musically as an actual physical urge striving for fulfillment, not, as in Schubert's many later 'Sehnsucht' compositions, as a vision of a better Utopian state, to be dreamed about but in reality unattainable.

Schubert set 'Sängers Morgenlied', D. 163 / 165 ([3] and [4]) twice in two different versions, one closely succeeding the other. Unfortunately we do not know whether dissatisfaction with the first version resulted in the second. The former is written in the galant empfindsamer (sentimental) style, balancing between melody and text-derived recitation, with a notable dynamic range for such a short song. The second, on the other hand, sounds completely introverted, with the simple triplet piano accompaniment, conceived in fine bel canto style, creating exactly the gentle, intimate basic mood of the whole poem. A jewel among the Körner settings is 'Wiegenlied', D. 304 [6] (Cradle Song), which, unusually, is not composed in a rocking 6/8 but in an 'even' 2/2 beat. The bright, weightlessly floating musical character of the song is wonderfully suitable both for the child-like subject and also for the gentle melancholy (Verse 2) of the poem. 'Das war ich', D. 174 [7], indulges in the pubertal fantasies of omnipotence and love of a young man, which Schubert has interpreted with some humour in a modest strophic song. The innocent interlude is an invitation to a little improvisatory insertion that comments on the events of the respective verses. 'Liebesrausch', D. 179 [8], brings an extended melodic arch, richly decorated with suspensions and conventional ornaments; the harmonic movement of the piano accompaniment is wide-ranging and set in changing keys.

Florio (D. 857/2) [10], is the beloved of Delphine in the play Lacrimas by the war counsellor, poet, romantic and literary critic Christian Wilhelm von Schütz. Schubert set the close relationship of the two leading figures (Lied der Delphine, for release on Naxos 8.557832, Romantic Poets, Vol. 3) to music that is developed from a common motivic core; with Florio movement and emotion are turned into a kind of tranquil dream ecstasy, with Delphine into excited, joyful restlessness.

The linnet is a song-bird; due to the male's beautiful, almost talking and delicate song it was earlier often caught and kept in a cage or aviary. 'Hänflings Liebeswerbung', D. 552 [11] (The Linnet's Wooing) by Friedrich Kind therefore sounds like word-painting, lively, exuberantly vital and impetuously pressing forward.

Friedrich von Gerstenberg wrote 'Hippolits Lied', D. 890[12] (Song of Hippolytus) as an insertion for the novel Gabriele by Johanna von Schopenhauer (mother of the famous philosopher). Hippolytus, a character from this novel, loves Gabriele, and will never give up this love. Fascinatingly Schubert composed absolutely bleak, despairingly melancholy music and therewith moves Hippolytus musically and psychologically into the region of the winter journeyer. We hear a composed 'idée fixe': the pedal-point E, present in eleven of the nineteen bars of each verse, together with the obsessively repeated decorative figure of the right hand on the higher E above create, with their rigid persistence, switching between monotony and the hypnotic, the impression of 'the eternal orbiting about the one' of thought and feeling.

'Sei mir gegrüsst', D. 741 [13] (I Greet You), by Friedrich Rückert, stands in strong contrast, with its high-romantic, sentimental music. The song is written with some special compositorial features that suggest an intensive inner interest on Schubert's part in the setting: here the actual harmony is based on a simple structure that nevertheless is repeated, filled with chromatic turns and shaken by abrupt, almost violent harmonic interruptions; there is extreme dynamic range between pp and ff; the melodic writing for voice and piano, which proceeds in parallel thirds at the start of each verse, turns into contrary motion at the refrain 'Sei mir gegrüsst', one leading, as it were, to the other, one embracing the other; here there is free treatment of the poem with its strict division into verses, which Schubert sets first in twenty, then in fifteen, seventeen, finally again in twenty bars, and, with no interruptions from interludes, it has a strong emotional intensity. In this way the song swings between a noble serenade character and an expressive hymn of love.

In 'Das Heimweh', D. 456 [14] (Longing for Home), by Karl Winkler, the chromaticism of the prelude in relation to the accents against the beat marks the feeling of longing of the song. Unfortunately Schubert did not completely succeed in raising the level of the actually feeble text with inspired music, and although the vocal part has throughout a melodic quality, it is – unusually for Schubert's strophic songs – strangely inflexible and unsuitable for the following verses.

The 'variation' of the song 'Der blinde Knabe', D. 833 [15] (The Blind Boy) by Colley Cibber, translated by Nikolaus Craigher, heard here (the original version may be heard on European Poets, Vol. 2, Naxos 8.557026-27) probably goes back to Johann Michael Vogl, the great singer, protagonist and promoter of Schubert's songs. This must have been the song sung in 1827 in the presence of the famous piano virtuoso and composer Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who liked the song so much that he immediately, and to Schubert's delight, chose it as the theme of his own ad hoc improvised piano fantasy. Hummel's enthusiasm is understandable, since 'Der blinde Knabe' is, with its simple and equally brilliant art of characterization, a masterpiece of the mature Schubert. The virtually contourless contrary motion of the right and left hands; the slow accompanimental figuration as illustration of the groping hands, constantly interrupted in the bass by the two beating quavers that depict the gentle tapping of the blindman's stick; the faltering of the semiquaver movement at the words 'Licht' (light) and 'hell' (bright) as moments of helpless indecision; and the vocal melody, proceeding cautiously in small steps - these and many other details illustrate Schubert's genius. While accepting that the alterations, or rather the ornamentation introduced by Vogl, are typical of his style of performance, one can, even with today's more purist standards of taste, describe them as thoroughly discreet, unobtrusive and suitable, in no way disturbing the substance of the composition.

August Wilhelm Schlegel (1767-1845) was, together with his brother Friedrich Wilhelm, a co-founder of early German romanticism. Born the son of a pastor in Hanover, he first studied theology and philosophy in Göttingen, soon changing, however, to philology and writing, producing translations, essays and editions.

In 1798, the year of his appointment as professor extraordinary in Jena, there was established there the so-called early romantic school to which Friedrich Schleiermacher, Novalis, Ludwig Tieck and others belonged. In 1803 Schlegel met in Berlin the French writer Madame de Staël, who offered him a well paid position as house tutor. In this position he travelled or lived in a number of European countries, particularly in Switzerland, France and Sweden. After Madame de Staël's death he was appointed in 1818 professor of literature and cultural history in Bonn. In later years he seems to have become conceited and vain, increasingly distanced from current literary developments, which led Heine, whose teacher Schlegel had been, to his biting comments. He won importance for literary development in Germany less as a poet than as a theoretician, with lectures and writings on culture and literature. His greatest achievement was in his activity as a translator and linguistic researcher. The still effective translations of many of Shakespeare's plays made the latter's works accessible for the first time to the German public.

While 'Sprache der Liebe', D. 410[16] (The Language of Love), composed in 1816, is still in the rather conventional style of the Körner songs, 'Die gefangenen Sänger', D. 712 [17] (The Caged Songbirds), of 1821 brings other dimensions. The music starts in the bright, sweet, unspoilt harmonious musical colours of the free nightingales, changes at the transition to the 'gefangenen Sängern' ('caged songbirds') to painful sighing motifs and the despairing singing of the nightingales, and sinks finally with human singers into the region of dark, melancholy, deeply despondent music and feeling. Today the song appears to us with different layers of meaning: Schlegel's poem offers us as it were an inherent programme of romanticism: "So im Erdental gefangen/ Hört des Menschen Geist mit Bangen/ Hehrer Brüder Melodie;/ Sucht umsonst zu Himmelsheitern / Dieses Dasein zu erweitern,/ Und das nennt er Poesie" (So held prisoner in the valley of the earth / The soul of man hears with fear / The songs of noble brothers; / Seeks in vain to the serener heavens / To extend this being here, / And calls it poetry). Poetry and art in general is represented as the attempt to escape the ordinariness and banality of material life through romantic heightening. Schubert's evident uncommonly strong inner engagement with the setting of the poem, however, also makes possible and probable another, much more concrete level of meaning: that he read the text as a metaphor for the tragic story of his friend and earlier schoolfellow Johann Chrisostomus Senn. A freethinker and uncompromising rebel against authoritarian and state high-handedness, Senn was arrested in March 1820 and condemned to fourteen months' imprisonment, after he had refused to allow a police patrol to inspect his domestic papers and records. Thus we find here, as in many other Schubert songs, further layers of meaning according to our way of looking at things, including artistic, historical, philosophical and psychological aspects.

For the ecstatic, often bombastic tone of the poem 'Wiedersehn', D. 855 [18] (Reunion), recalling Schiller's poetic language, Schubert surprisingly provides a completely simple, innocent and carefree flowing piano accompaniment and a wide-ranging bel canto vocal melody, alternating between whole tone steps and wide intervals. It is to be regretted that the strict strophic setting is not equally suitable for all the verses, 'Abendlied für die Entfernte', D. 856 [19] (Evening Song for the Distant Beloved), shows Schubert's mastery of the form known to musicologists as 'varied strophic song': unity of the form through the repetition of the same music, with, at the same time, careful variations corresponding to the words of individual verses. Here there is variation above all in the change between major and minor, as, in the last verse, in the succession of major and minor within one verse, corresponding to the words of the text So schlummr' ich ein/ So werd' ich wach/ In Lust nicht, / Doch in Frieden (So I sleep, / So shall I wake / Not in joy, / Yet in peace) the contrast of joy and sorrow is overcome in inner peace.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by Keith Anderson

 

The sung text and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/557831.htm

 


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