About this Recording
8.570480 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 30 - Poets of Sensibility, Vol. 6
English  German 

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
Poets of Sensibility, Vol. 6

 

This recording concludes the series of settings of texts by “Poets of Sensibility” in the German Schubert Lied Edition. With the six recordings it can be seen that, in terms of the numbers of settings, Schubert dealt with no other collection of poets as extensively as he did with this group: there are more than 130 songs, among them countless double (or more) settings of the same poem.

The poems by Friedrich Matthisson, Friedrich Klopstock, Matthias Claudius and Ludwig Hölty belong to the times Schubert spent immersed in the canon of German-language literature; these poets were well-known and were disseminated in books, almanacs and periodicals, as well as in private handwritten albums. They offered Schubert an inexhaustible source of poetic material which was rarely the stuff of genius, as in Goethe or Schiller, but which was nevertheless almost always of a high literary quality. Such material offered depth of feeling, vivid metaphorical language and metrical variety, with which a young composer could hone his craft of word-setting. Predominant among these were simple and varied strophic songs, but a number of works were written in through-composed forms, using ever more inventive variation techniques. This extraordinarily fruitful period in Schubert’s Lieder composition lasted from about 1814 to 1817, after which he turned only in rare cases to this group of expressive poets. New groups of poets assumed greater importance for him, above all the Romantics, as well as poems by his friends and those of Austrian contemporaries.

In contrast to the above-mentioned eminent writers was an occasional poet, the Swiss nobleman Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762–1834). Before the French Revolution he had been a Captain in the Royal Swiss Guard, which was stationed at Versailles. In 1789 he travelled through Germany and met Goethe, Schiller, Herder and other important literary figures. During the French Revolution he lived as a private citizen in Paris but he later returned to Switzerland and became a lieutenant-colonel.

In the years 1816 and 1817 Schubert wrote thirteen solo songs to texts by Salis-Seewis. They are all modest in scale and none is more than thirty bars long. With the exception of Der Jüngling an der Quelle (The Youth by the Spring) and Ins stille Land(Into the Peaceful Land) all are strophic songs, in part folksong-like and of the greatest simplicity. In performance various verses offer the singer possibilities for melodic ornamentation and variation; the pianist too has opportunities to make typical and differently characterized changes to his own part, but whatever singer and pianist choose to do should be in harmony with, and with reference to, the different expressions, pictures and emotional “values” of individual verses. This practice was customary and taken for granted in Schubert’s time and this recording follows that example.

On the page Der Jüngling an der Quelle, D. 300, seems to be one of those short, unremarkable songs, yet already on first hearing it displays a curiously fascinating tonal effect, instance of Schubert’s unique gift, his ability to produce the strongest impression with the simplest of ingredients. 25 of its 29 and 1/2 bars are underpinned by a pedal-point in the piano part and above it one can hear in the unhurried semiquavers the soft, ever-changing, yet constant movement of the waves in the water. The middle voice of the piano and the vocal part reflect each other (the mirror-image in the water!) in broken triads. Interestingly enough, the only intrusion of a dark minor key is in the second half of the song, not at the reference to ‘Spröden’ (“cold”)—that would be too direct and too obvious—but immediately after that, so that ‘Blätter und Bach’ (“the leaves and the stream”) really do sigh. At the repetition of the two final lines of verse the harmony, at the invocation of ‘Luisa’, finally changes into a wonderfully bright major key, expressing effusive admiration and affection.

Der Herbstabend, D. 405 (The Autumn Evening), is based on one of the countless “presentiment of death” poems of sentimental lyric verse. ‘Abendglockenhalle’ (“Evening bells”), ‘Moorgedüfte’ (“moorland breeze’), ‘Kirchhofs Gittern’ (“churchyard railings”), ‘welkes Laub’ (“withered leaves”) and ‘gebleichte Gräser’ (“bleached grass”) are the symbols of death in the autumn landscape. The somewhat difficult to understand third verse raises the fluttering of the limetree leaves to a mysterious sign of the spiritual presence of a dead person.

As with many of Schubert’s other strophic songs, it cannot be said with any certainty how many, and which, verses of Der Entfernten, D. 350 (To the Distant Beloved), he had intended to be performed: often he simply wrote the vocal line under the first verse and put repeat marks at the end of the song. In doing so, he probably left it up to the taste and predilections of the performers to make an appropriate selection from the verses. Schubert portrays the constant presence of the ‘geliebtes Traumgesicht’ (“sweet beloved vision”) in natural phenomena, by day and night, with simple, gently-flowing radiant music of warmth and spontaneity. Especially arresting is the surprising interruption of the continuous quaver movement in the accompaniment at the words ‘umschwebst du mich’ (“hovers around me”), which is underlaid with four piano chords. So at the same time they assume a special significance and great lightness.

The four versions of Ins stille Land, D. 403 (Into the Peaceful Land), differ one from another only slightly. With performances here of the first and fourth versions one can hear clearly how strongly even small changes can alter the effect of an entire song: the tender and dark-sounding G minor of the first version is transposed up a tone and is replaced by the brighter, clearer, but also appreciably sadder and more yearning key of A minor; the placing of a prelude, which anticipates the start of the vocal line and which comes to rest on a pause, bestows a greater weight on the whole song; the melodic rearrangement of the middle section (‘Schon wölkt sich uns der Abendhimmel trüber…’/“The evening sky is already clouding over”) up to the impressive, painful tritone at the words ‘wird der Strand’ (“the shore”) intensifies the expression of hopelessness, and the lengthening of the little postlude into a dominant-tonic phrase emphasizes the plight of the undelivered person, and the unanswered question: ‘Wer leitet uns... ins stille Land?’/“Who will lead us over into the peaceful land?”. This song seems to have been specially important to Schubert, for even after the fourth version, written in 1823, the story was not over. In 1826 he returned to it once again when, for his cycle of Mignon Songs (D. 877, see Goethe Lieder Vol. 2, Naxos 8.554666) he amended the song Nun wer die Sehnsucht kennt (Only he who knows what longing is), written originally in a duet version, into a solo song which, in all its musical parameters, is closely related to Ins stille Land.

Schubert set Fischerlied (The Fisherman’s Song) in two very different musical guises. In fact, both versions (D. 351 and D. 562) are written in 2/4 time, both are simple strophic songs, 24 bars long, both set the second section of a verse (‘Wir graben nicht Schätze’/“We do not dig for treasure”) musically clearly differently from the first, but that is where the similarities end. While the first setting comes over as energetic and sprightly, the melody advancing simply in steps of seconds and thirds, underpinned by simple chords in the piano part, the second setting behaves very differently. It is lyrical, with widely-arching melodic phrases in the voice and a gentle piano accompaniment mirroring the flow of the water. In the first version of the song Schubert allows the singing fisherman to bring each verse to an end with a “tralala” refrain, which could also be sung by a choir in festive mood, and repeated by the piano. In the second version of the song the singer himself repeats the last two lines of each verse, while the piano follows it with a postlude presenting another musical motif. The whole of the second setting is more refined and elaborate and puts one more easily in mind of a specific fisherman, singing to himself dreamily on the river bank.

Pflügerlied, D. 392 (Ploughman’s Song), once more in a gentle 2/4 time, is catchy and folksong-like, with echoes of Haydn in its melodic and harmonic writing. The deeds of men, death and the hoped-for resurrection are equated to sowing and harvesting.

Herbstlied (Bunt sind schon die Wälder), D. 502 (Harvest Song (“The woods are already brightlycoloured”)) became one of the best-known of German folk-songs in the setting by Johann Friedrich Reichardt. Schubert’s setting in no way radiates elegiac laments, but rings out brightly and carefree, inspired less by ‘grauen Nebeln’ (“grey mists”) and more by ‘bunten Blättern’ (“colourful leaves”) in the boisterous holiday mood of a harvest thanksgiving.

An die Harmonie, D. 394 (To Harmony), is written in a hymn-like style, in keeping with the lofty, occasionally somewhat affected language of the poem. The “harmony” motif—music as the universal comforter of mankind, which will deliver men and elevate them from the misery of earthly life—surfaces again and again in Schubert’s songs. Above all, the poems of his friends and contemporaries used this stock theme also in time-specific contexts, as a reaction to the detested living conditions of the Restoration period.

Like Fischerlied, Die Einsiedelei (The Hermitage) has come down to us in two completely different settings. The first setting, D. 393, emphasizes the idyllic nature of the reclusive life: it has nothing to do with self-denial or excessive meditation and rather more with living the simple, secluded life surrounded by harmonious nature, uncontaminated by any kind of human discord. The second setting, D. 563, takes one unawares, not only with its dark colours and muted atmosphere, but with its pointed pizzicato-like bass part in the piano and its curiously perverse accents (‘mir dienet zur Kapelle...’/“will serve as my chapel”) which do not sit so happily with the supposed tranquillity of the scene. So the piece assumes a hint of absurdity and the hermit a gently quirky slant, which anticipates the similarly original solo song Der Einsame, D. 800, (The Recluse), (qv. North German Poets, Naxos 8.555780) which Schubert wrote eight years later.

Die Herbstnacht, D. 404 (Autumn Night), was originally entitled ‘Die Wehmut’ (“Melancholy”) and is a slight, unspectacular hymn to melancholy by Salis-Seewis but set in a perfect Schubertian bel canto style, which can “…bring together joy and pain” (‘kannst Wonn’ und Schmerz vereinen’) and which draws near “when my lament gently fills my breast” (‘Du nahst, wenn schon die Klage / Den Busen sanfter dehnt’).

Abschied von der Harfe, D. 406 (Farewell to the Harp), the last of the Salis-Seewis Lieder, is a dark song to the “solemn evening time” of life, the swan-song of an old bard.

Freude der Kinderjahre, D. 455 (Joy of Childhood), by the royal Counsellor from Magdeburg, Friedrich von Köpken, presents a cheerful look back at childhood, though it is certainly not childlike, but written in the manner of a whimsical couplet, while Das Bild, D. 155, (The Vision), the author of the text unknown, is once again grounded firmly in the world of sensibility.

The text of Heimliches Lieben, D. 922 (Secret Love), by Karoline Louise von Klenke, was given to Schubert by his hostess Marie Pachler during his stay in Graz in 1827. For personal reasons the poem was obviously very important to her, and Schubert seems to have been conscious of that in his setting of it, since his music is unusual in many respects: the lengthy, sixbeats-in-the bar, prelude is clearly related to the opening of Beethoven’s more famous Adelaide, but then, in a characteristically chromatic alteration of the second bar, it ventures into different harmonic, highly romantic, areas of expression. The construction of the erotic text alternates between outward, even conventionally temperate gestures, and more violent eruptions which manifest themselves in sudden dynamic intensifications and dissonances. Significantly, this strange juxtaposition of surface restraint and background fluctuation is a reflection of inner tension, which is the central theme of the poem: the pursuit of a love which cannot be lived.

The poetry of the Anacreontics harks back to the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, who celebrated the virtues of conviviality, wine, beauty and love in his poems. A lightness of touch, love of life, noblesse and deft irony are their hallmarks. They helped to create a myth and legend of one eternally youthful, happy poet, who nevertheless died in old age when he allegedly choked on a grape. Johann Peter Uz (1720–1796), from the Franconian area of Ansbach, attempted to found a German rococo style of poetry based on Anacreon’s ideals, but written as much as a protest against, and as a counter-movement to, the hostile anti-life, anti-sensual, piety of his time. The poems Die Nacht (The Night), An Chloen (To Chloe) and Die Liebesgötter (The Gods of Love) date from this period of his literary activity. Later Uz disassociated himself from the “mischievous art of poetry” and devoted himself to works with moral, philosophical and religious themes. Gott im Frühlinge, D. 448 (God in Springtime) and Der gute Hirt, D. 449 (The Good Shepherd) originate from this phase of Uz’s creative life. Schubert sets the former in a light, distinctly irreverent and irreligious manner: an extemporary, quasi-jubilatory song, alternating between syllabic parlando phrases and widely-arching cantabile passages, unfolds over a standard piano accompaniment. Der gute Hirt (The Good Shepherd), a sort of paraphrase on the famous Psalm 23, unfolds in chorale-like phrases over a simple piano accompaniment in thirds. Colour and contrast are derived above all from the rich, wide-ranging harmonies.

An den Schlaf, D. 447 (To Sleep) was attributed to Uz in earlier editions but it is not to be found among his published works. The short, twelve-bar song makes an impression on account of the gentle yet urgent expressivity of the plea for release through sleep. Altogether different is Die Nacht, D. 358 (The Night) in which a nocturnal ceremony is sung of, amidst nature, wine, love and “voluptuous dreams”. Schubert invents a rhythmically-sprung, immensely exciting chordal music, with a pronounced Baroque feeling—a stroke of genius which prevents the work from becoming sentimental and lewd and instead bestows on it nobility, solemn tautness and an aura of eroticism. In this work, perhaps both Uz and Schubert came closest to the ideal of classical Anacreontic poetry.

All that remains of An Chloen, D. 363, (To Chloe), is a damaged manuscript; the first two lines have only the bass line of the piano part. Our recording carefully attempts to sketch in a possible beginning to the song, without compromising its fragmentary state. The entire song tells of the pain of, and yearning for, love, and the music swoons and wallows in sighs and chromatic expressiveness.

Die Liebesgötter, D. 446, (The Gods of Love), is tossed off in a completely rococo style, teasing, light, with a scarcely veiled eroticism, witty and ironic, which portrays fully the truly colourful activities in the domain of Cypris (another name for Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love). The writer ends the poem urgently imploring that “the little gods, full of cunning” (‘kleine Götter, voller List’) may stay close to him with their arrows of love; only when his youth is over and gone will he have fun with Lyaeus, “The Carefree One”; Lyaeus, however, is an alternative name for Bacchus, the God of Wine.


Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by David Stevens

 

The sung texts and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/570480.htm


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