About this Recording
8.557833 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 23 - Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 3
English  German 

THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 23

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of Poems by Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 3

 

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.

---

 

The third and last volume of our recordings of song settings of poems by Schubert's Austrian contemporaries offers, like the previous volumes, names of poets which have been largely forgotten and are not even current among German scholars. Most of these writers were dilettante poets, who published their work in almanacs, periodicals or private printings, to be read and appreciated in cultivated bourgeois circles. Their literary second rank did not prevent Schubert from choosing them for his settings if they fulfilled some important conditions that roused his artistic inspiration, profundity and distinctiveness of the basic idea, vividness of poetic imagery, emotional truth, compatibility with Schubert's own view of the world or awareness of life, as far as we today are able to interpret it. Under these circumstances he was able to combine poetry that was in itself qualitatively inferior, imperfect in form and language, with his music into substantial, profound and convincing statements. That the sometimes lesser quality of the verses has often been forgotten through the beauty of the music is due to the genius of Schubert; but for the fact that these songs were actually written and can still speak to and move us today we must thank the enthusiasm and artistic character and communicative skills of poets today generally forgotten.

The first two songs might sound similar but are at heart varied: while ' Himmelsfunken' (Flashes of Heaven) with its slow, steady chorale-type chords in the piano part and almost endless arches of melody of sublime beauty may summon up an association with the quiet circles of the stars, the running chains of semiquavers in the piano accompaniment of ' Der Mondabend' (The Moonlit Evening) together with the cheerful, dancing charm of the vocal melody, depict the thousandfold illumination of the starry night sky. Both songs, in spite of their completely different pattern, radiate the coming peace of evening that was to people of Schubert's time as familiar as today. Both of them have as a theme the awakening of yearning so ever-present in Schubert; in each the poet seeks the merging of the soul with the infinite, in the second with something much more earthly: the poet's beloved Silli.

'Bertas Lied in der Nacht' (Bertha's Lullaby) too describes an evening and nocturnal scene, yet here dark colours preponderate, and in the gloomy piano prelude and the following unison of voice and accompaniment there is a suggestion of the uncanny, expressed through the grandiose image of the night as a giant bird that with its wings covers the world (one may compare this with the famous Eichendorff/Schumann ' Zwielicht' ). Yet the feeling of apprehension disappears with the calming gestures in the text and music; finally slumber, the 'lovely child', comes even to the comforting, soothing Saviour of mankind, who, grieving, was still watchful, and in an almost endless 'fading away' the music itself appears to fall asleep.

After so much nocturnal scenery ' Cora an die Sonne' (Cora to the Sun) brings brighter colours and a hymn-like style. In spite of its simple strophic form, with its wide-spanned, expansive arches of melody it looks forward to high romanticism, while ' Mein Gruß an den Mai' (My Greeting to May), with its dancing, buoyant motion and ritornello-like interludes remains within conventional lines.

Die Blumensprache (The Language of Flowers) belongs to the sphere of flower songs and ballads so beloved of Schubert. Here the flowers appear as interpreters - here in the sense of clarifying, reporting - the feelings of the hearts of those who are loved and those who love. Schubert avoids the danger of illustrating musically in detail the text, rich in language and imagery, by the choice of a simple continuous pattern of accompaniment and by the invention of a flowing, light, charming and yet emotionally expressive melodic line - an apparently innocent song but for that very reason one of skilful artistry.

'Der Blumen Schmerz' (The Flowers' Anguish) has a completely different importance. The song is a precursor of the two great flower ballads ' Vergissmeinnicht' (Forget-me-not) and ' Viola', written some six years later, settings of poems by his friend Schober [ Naxos 8.557171] and its compositional quality is extremely high. The clarity of the musical themes, their absolute symbiosis with the relevant ideas and imagery of the verse, the building and winding down of dramatic tension from the heavier sighing motifs of the beginning through the 'awakening music' to the tender wedding-march and its collapse up to the final, tenderly urgent, bitter-sweet music of mourning that follows a kind of chorale passage, this all amounts to the most inspired and most original song that Schubert had written up to this point. It must also not be forgotten that the apparent larmoyant nature of the text for Schubert and his contemporaries in no way corresponded only to a sentimentality remote from the world. The flower songs and ballads have a coded political background, which was, in the true sense of the words, spoken 'through flowers', in the era of Metternich, when this could not be expressed openly. The awakening of the flowers is thus equated with the rise of the French Revolution, and it is clear that here its wider fate in the period of the Restoration is described - their betrayal and their final extinction. With this background it becomes reasonable to believe that here the beginning of spring is, paradoxically, not the occasion for rejoicing, but one for (in anticipation) mourning and resignation, and again, with such a background, one may allow that these literary curiosities, even today, would have their justification, their implications would be readily understood, and, indeed, perhaps they would have a relevance to contemporary events, all elements which they would certainly not have, seen purely as sentimental stories about flowers.

Diametrically opposite - both in the ideological aspect of the poem and the compositional treatment - is ' Das Lied im Grünen' (The Song of the Greenwood ). Here we find ourselves in the sane world of the Biedermeier, withdrawn from the realm of politics and dedicated in self-sufficient modesty to the 'little', private joys of life. Anton Reil writes in the first edition of his poem, which appeared soon after Schubert's composition (the song was first published in 1829, after Schubert's death): 'It was often sung this summer here and there in the woods by cheerful groups to a pleasing, cheerful melody by Schubert'; Reil's description of Schubert's song is wonderfully apt: pleasing, cheerful, with a typically Schubertian uniform, uninterrupted, quietly flowing and yet lively figuration of the accompaniment, and a vocal part that is completely syllabic with light, textually clear declamation, using Schubert's basic dactylic rhythm (stressed - unstressed - unstressed, long - short - short). The formal lay-out of the composition changes between a varied strophic song and a rondo, and so contributes to the uniform, almost self-contained and restful total image. The combination of all these compositional 'ingredients' with the fullness of the text with its seven verses might have produced a highly monotonous result. How Schubert succeeded in creating music from it, the 'heavenly length' of which calls up a longing for more rather than a rapid conclusion, is only partly explicable. The particular effect of this idyllic Biedermeier collection of life's curiosities with ideas of comfortable serenity, stimulating conversation and vital zest for living, made it an enormously popular song over the generations, before, perhaps because of its bourgeois attitude, it disappeared from current song recitals.

The following ' Frühlingslied' (Spring Song) offers a strong contrast. As opposed to the self-sufficiency of the previous song, this is unbelievably splendid in its music, highly romantic, sweet, sensuous, almost recalling Strauss, one of the finest and most exceptional Schubert songs. It thus makes the greatest demands on the singer with its ariosi, wide-spanning arches of melody, which again and again soar up exuberantly to ever new stratospheric heights of flight. Probably for that reason it is most regrettably almost never to be heard in the concert hall. Schubert must have had this music very close to his heart, since its melody is largely identical with the soprano part of the Vocal Quartet, D. 914, written in the same period.

'An die Sonne' (To the Sun), with its key of E flat major, maestoso character, ceremonially dotted rhythm and some turns of melody, carries distinct echoes of Mozart's The Magic Flute. Probably this relationship merely goes back to the image of the sun – ideological-philosophical parallels between the poem and the opera libretto are in any case not established.

Schubert arranged Stoll's poem ' Lambertine' as a sensitive musical character study. The theme of 'hopeless' love, a favourite in the classical and romantic periods, in which the protagonist or the poet remains nevertheless faithful and in comforting proximity to the beloved (' zu sehen ihn gönnt mir das Schicksal noch '/'Fate still allows me to see him') gives him the chance to put into vivid music a combination of different emotions, ranging from ecstatic enthusiasm (the first part), agitated despair (the middle part) and peaceful resignation (the last part).

'Blondel zu Marien' (Blondel to Mary), by an unknown poet, begins with a dark, wide-ranging piano prelude that has a marked affinity with Beethoven's Sonata in C sharp minor (the name ' Moonlight Sonata ' does not come from Beethoven). Here and in the introductory first section of the song it functions as a near relation of ' Bertas Lied in der Nacht', in the second passage it takes a completely different compositional path: as a symbol of the light of the ' holden Zauberbildes ' ('gentle magic picture') of the beloved there sound tenderly expressive melismata that stylistically have their home in the sphere of early romantic Italian bel canto (Schubert heard Bellini's operas in Vienna). Schubert had sometimes undertaken such adaptations in his settings of Italian texts [qv. Metastasio in European Poets, Vol. 2, Naxos 8.557026-27], but among his German songs this procedure is unique.

'Der Morgenkuss' (The Morning Kiss) must be counted among the really weak song compositions by Schubert. Here the dilettante exuberance of the poem with its ' wonnevollen Pein ' ('blissful pain') and its ' martervollen Gluck ' ('joy of martyrdom') seems to have checked rather than provoked his inspiration.

In comparison the songs ' Die Unterscheidung' (The Distinction) and ' Die Männer sind méchant' (Men are wicked) from the Four Refrain Songs [the two other songs are included in Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 1, Naxos 8.554796] offer a high degree of entertainment value. The publisher Thaddäus Weigl announced the appearance of this Opus 95 in summer 1828 as follows: 'The public has long wanted to have from the pen of this gifted song-writer a composition with cheerful comic content'. Naturally Schubert had not up to this time distinguished himself as a writer of folk-style couplets in the style of the then popular Ferdinand Raimund. For the fact that he also had the talent for this, however, the two songs provide impressive evidence: the first deals with the consequences that a young girl draws from the warning of her mother about love in general and in the particular: in the refrain she stresses time and again: 'Doch lieben Hans, lieben kann ich dich nicht' ('But Hans, I cannot love you') - yet she will behave quite differently and let Hans do what he wants with her … Schubert gives the simple but artful girl introductory humorous music in lilting 6/8. Particularly expressive and to the point, the almost protective movement of the hand at ' doch lieben Hans ', and then the inviting downward movement of the same hand, while the music at the words ' lieben kann ich dich nicht ' with the falling octave of the song, picks up again the affection in the hand movement and thus contradicts the words of the text. More robust and suggestive is the story of the second song: the girl, who has paid no heed to her mother's warning about a young man, catches him in flagrante with another; the text reaches a climax in the clear hint ' Vom Grusse kam's zum Kusse, / Vom Kuss zum Druck der Hand, / Vom Druck, ach liebe Mutter! - Die Männer sind méchant ' (From greeting it came to kissing, / From kissing to pressing the hand, 'From pressing the hand, ah Mother dear! - Men are wicked'). That an English word then known in Viennese speech rhymes with 'Druck' and is here omitted but its unspoken presence is almost automatically understood, this would have registered with all audiences of stage farces of the time.

In the same category is ' Das Echo' (The Echo), the deceptive twisting words of which the girl slily uses to prove her innocence of the fact that 'Hans' has kissed her. Schubert makes full use of spirited popular melody and explicit echo effects.

'Die Liebe' (Love) and ' Die Macht der Liebe' (The Power of Love) are strophic songs of hymn-like character. The first is marked by the contrast between the initial solemn upswing of the song at the recurring question in all the verses ' Wo weht der Liebe hoher Geist? ' ('Where dwells the noble spirit of love?') and the following quietly flowing answering verses with cantabile melody. With the strong musical weighting of the beginning of the strophe and the simple 'lighter' arrangement of all the following sentences Schubert manages to fulfil the task of bringing into balance the repeated first sentence with the four later sentences - no mean compositional feat. In the second song he engages strongly with the structure of the poem: he varies the original iambic metre (' Ja überall ') through deleting the first word to make a trochee, with the intention of lending stronger weight to the initial ' Überall '.

'Ammenlied' (Nurse's Song) creates with a few notes an unmistakable gesture of cheerless consolation. The pared-down, lean arrangement of the music corresponds perfectly to the content of the poem of the poor nurse and the freezing child.

Rich, by contrast, in its musical setting is ' Abendbilder' (Evening Scene). From a single, initially quiet triplet motion descending from above in broken sixths (which we meet again much later in the famous ' Lindenbaum' of Winterreise ) an almost inexhaustible diversity conjures up atmospheric variants, word-painting and feelings: the bleak twilight, 'enchanted' scene, the sound of ravens and song of nightingales, the tolling of bells, shining stars, presentiments of death, mourning, consolation and transfiguration are presented to us in a completely unspectacular, meditative, quiet and absolutely compelling way. Hardly any other composer of the time was capable of such a hypnotic musical effect.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by Keith Anderson

 

The sung text and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/557833.htm

 


Close the window