About this Recording
8.570838 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 29 - Settings of Various Poets
English  German 

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
Settings of Poems by Various Poets

 

This recording covers settings of poets originating from various times, places and literary schools that have proved difficult or impossible to assign to the various groups of poets in the Schubert German Lied Edition. Thus, little is known of the lives of the two poets Bernhard Ehrlich and Friedrich Bertrand; in his beliefs and professional life, Gottlieb Pfeffel was an adherent of the Enlightenment, though he can by no means be classified with its principal literary movement, the Empfindsamkeit, and the Baden schoolmaster Friedrich Sauter is classed as Biedermeier, though he wrote Wachtelschlag—which was set by Schubert as early as 1796—years before this period began. Finally, of the twenty or so Lieder to anonymous texts in Schubert’s entire output, four are represented here. That Schubert was himself unaware of the poets’ names cannot be verified, though it probably was the case. On the other hand, none of the Lieder settings of unknown poets was published until after Schubert’s death, and where the printers’ copies were no more than an initial sketch by Schubert, or only later copies made by his friends, a number of authoritative readings could certainly have been lost along the way.

Bernhard Ambros Ehrlich was an imperial royal gubernial councillor (a government official) and official auditor of accounts—and hence probably also a censor—in Prague; no more is known about him. Schubert set his poem Als ich sie erröten sah (When I saw her blush), D. 153 [1] in ecstatically lyrical tone with melodic phrases of great expressivity that constantly mount in enthusiasm accompanied by a constant flow of semiquavers. It is almost more akin to an aria than to the more declamatory Lied.

Again little is known of the life of Friedrich Bertrand: according to recent information (to be found in Annegret Huber’s article in the as yet unpublished Schubertlied Lexikon), he was born in 1751 or 1757 in the vicinity of Halle, dying sometime after 1828, probably in Dessau, was private secretary to the tax authorities, before becoming a freelance author and was later the councillor for Cöthen in the state of Magdeburg. Minona, D. 152 [2], to which Bertrand gave the subtitle Die Kunde der Dogge (The Mastiff’s Tidings), is a gloomy ballad in the style of the verse tales of Ossian (alias James MacPherson), which were immensely popular at the time and from which Schubert created nine, in some cases very extensive, settings until 1817 (see European Poets, Vols. 1 and 2 (Naxos 8.557371-72)). Following the opening dark, nocturnal evocation of the countryside, we hear Minona as she waits all alone for her beloved; in effectively contrasting short recitative-like passages she sings in turn of her longing and pictures the far-off hunting scenes in which he could be involved. But she is overcome with terrible premonitions as the boarhound, “the waiting girl’s favourite”, appears alone at her hut and eventually leads her to the place where she is horrified to find her beloved killed by her own father who has thereby “fulfilled his oath of vengeance so terribly”. She grasps a wonderful vision of eternal love and marriage, pulls the fatal arrow out “and, seized by deep sorrow, plunges it hastily into her bosom, as dazzling as snow”. A compositional weakness is detectable in the relatively short-winded, recitative-like writing which prohibits the development of melodic flow. The music is quite capable of engaging our attention though, with a number of impressive ‘snapshots’, as it does, for instance, at the startling unison of voice and piano at „Und über die Heide und über die Wald“ (“And over the heath and through the wood”) or the wonderfully plaintive interlude in B minor after Minona’s lonely lament has died away. At the appearance of the boarhound, however, the musical argument gains coherence and ‘direction’. The quiet patter and whimpering, petting and nuzzling, the oppressive foreboding of the girl, who then follows the dog hurriedly to the hideous death scene are all compellingly conceived and recreated in a long arioso. When she arrives, the musical thread is again broken by short passages of recitative which serve to hasten the narrative to the musical climax when she realises the double catastrophe that has taken place—„O Vater o vater, verzeih es dir Gott …“ (“Oh father, father, may God forgive you…”). After at brief moment of holding back—„Doch soll ich zermalmet von hinnen jetzt gehn…“ (“But am I to leave here broken …”)—after an astounding, if brief, mystical harp-like intermezzo, her suicide is portrayed in a powerful declamatory sequence. The ensuing postlude that concludes the haunted scene is as terse as it is deathly sad. On the one hand, the scenes and historicized bardic utterance of “Ossian” poetry may seem so antiquated nowadays, yet works in the horror mystery genre of today’s “fantasy novels” are written in a similar vein to meet an insatiable public demand for fairy-tale, myth, the inexplicable and the uncanny.

Friedrich Sauter’s poem Der Wachtelschlag (The Quail’s Call), D. 742 [3] had already been set by Beethoven in 1803 and it is likely that Schubert knew Beethoven’s song when he came to set the poem to music in 1822. It is interesting to note when comparing the two compositions that Schubert does not attempt in any way to outbid Beethoven in terms of craftsmanship nor to surpass his wealth of musical ideas. In comparison to his highly wrought music with its through-composed, ever changing sections that introduce concise thematic material, the Schubertian version seems modest, simpler, and more unified by virtue of its varied strophic form, quietly memorable where Beethoven is forceful. The borrowing of the quail’s call motif that pervades both works might well be seen as Schubert’s acknowledging his debt to his great model. Nevertheless, the Lied answers Schubert’s own question, who would be able “to do anything more after Beethoven?” (as does the parallel setting of the famous Adelaide—see Poets of Sensibility 1/2) in the most unassuming manner: this he was able to achieve by striking out in new directions.

Schubert’s Lieder oeuvre contains numerous, mainly simply conceived songs dedicated to various skilled trades: Der Schiffer (The Boatman), Der Fischer (The Fisherman), Der Goldschmiedsgesell (The Goldsmith’s Apprentice), Der Totengräber (The Gravedigger), Bergknappenlied (Miners’ Song), Die Spinnerin (The Spinstress), Der Schatzgräber (The Treasure Seeker), Pflügerlied (The Ploughman’s Song) and Der Alpenjäger (The Alpine Huntsman) among others. Das Tischlerlied (The Carpenter’s Song), D. 274 [4] introduces a simple man who has obviously mastered his craft but also keeps an eye on money and good remuneration; he is similar in character and musical detail to Rocco the gaoler in Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, which Schubert had probably heard in 1814.

Opinions regarding Adelwold und Emma, D. 211 [5] in the relevant discussions of Schubert Lieder are unanimous in their condemnation and range from the unfavourable to the entirely lambasting. John Reed speaks of a “do-it-yourself opera” while Fischer-Dieskau alludes to one of the few “genuine misjudgments” amongst Schubert’s choices of text. Is there anything to be said in defence of such an antiquated, frequently doggerel, ballad and Schubert’s apparently naïve, piece by piece setting? What could have induced him on 5 June 1815 to put 608 bars to paper, making this his longest Lied with a performance time of almost half an hour? Was it really just the increased frequency of dramatic but dreadfully maudlin scenes and dialogues? It tells the story of a “trusty German”, a knight, whose seven sons have all fallen in combat and whose wife has been dead for fifteen years. Only his daughter Emma is left to him, and it is she who is to ensure the continuation of his calibre and lineage when given in marriage to a bridegroom “of heroic stock” and thus a noble knight too. Emma distances herself from this requirement however. Her love belongs in secret to the lowly boarder, Adelwold, who was brought to the castle as an orphan by her father, who raised him selflessly as his own son with his own children. But neither of the main protagonists reveals his or her true feelings and wishes to the other: what cannot be, cannot be spoken by either. Finally, in a conversation at night, both do, however, confess their love; but Adelwold wishes to flee to the Holy Land to prevent himself breaking the trust his foster-father has put in him. Emma shuts herself off completely, causing her father to sink into grief and brooding, as does the disappearance of the youth. A terrible fire at the castle puts Emma in mortal danger and brings Adelwold back at the last minute to rescue her from the flames. Now their love finally becomes clear to the father and, deeply touched, he consents to the marriage across the social divide. Schubert was certainly also convinced of the power of love to endure and triumph over all obstacles. He may, however, have been still more intrigued by another aspect of the ballad: it is undeniably a study of the subliminal, the unsaid and self-revelation, the agony of having to keep silent and the relief of being able to confide in someone. In fact Schubert’s music achieves its moments of greatest intensity during the course of the other dramatic events: at the sudden interruption of the old man’s monologue in the ancestral vault („,Aber Fluch!und mit dem Worte…“ / “‘But a curse!’ and with these words …”), in the central revelatory dialogue between Adelwold and Emma („Zürne nicht, gebenedeite…“ / “Do not be angry, blessed one…”) and in the recognition scene that follows the disastrous fire.

As Morgenlied (Morning Song), D. 381 [6] and Abendlied (Evening Song), D. 382 [7] are inevitably linked to each other and were set by Schubert on the same day, we may assume that both originate from the pen of the same unknown author. These are straightforward and tuneful strophic songs written in an immediately recognisable Mozartian vein. The first has the carefree air of one of Papageno’s ditties, the second flows completely at ease in a state of peace; the ritornello-like inter- and postludes have a classical beauty about them.

Trost (Consolation), D. 523 8, the fourth Lied with a text by an unknown author, has some impressive and affecting moments. Written only a short while before the famous Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden), we hear in this song such strange deathly Schubertian music, at once infinitely sad and comforting, characterized by dactylic rhythm and its variants, dark tone colours, marching solemnly and peacefully yet at the same time having inexorable momentum. In addition, Schubert invests the music with two exceptional harmonic progressions: the first—just before the words „tief und still…“ (“deeply and silently”)—takes us in fact to the very depths, transporting us to realms far away from the home key; the second comes four bars later at the vocally extended word „nimmer“ (“never”) which the voice draws out, and then launches an ascending chromatic sequence, more or less underneath the top part (the piano part lies below that of the voice here), giving painful expression to the longing for death. This is finally rounded off in complimentary fashion with a descending bass line in the postlude. A conventional cadence with swirling cantabile figures in the middle parts conveying quiet confidence, closes this mysterious creation of just seventeen bars.

Gottlieb Conrad Pfeffel was born in Colmar in 1736. He began a course in jurisprudence at the University of Halle. In the summer of 1754 he went to Dresden to be treated for an eye complaint. Following an unsuccessful operation he became completely blind in 1758 and was forced to discontinue his studies. Despite such a serious handicap, he began to establish himself as a writer; it was thanks to his initiative that the Colmar Reading Society was founded in 1760; and in 1773 he opened his École Militaire for Protestant boys drawn from the nobility. Although run along military lines, this institution nevertheless put integrated educational concepts derived from Rousseau into practice and was attended by many prominent figures including the Emperor Joseph II, Duke Karl Eugen von Württemberg and Wilhelm von Humboldt. In 1788 the Berlin Academy of Arts appointed him an Honorary Member. As a convinced republican, Pfeffel welcomed the French Revolution but rejected its radical consequences. In the turmoil of the time he was forced to relinquish the Military Academy and lost his fortune. He kept his head above water financially with occasional work as a journalist and translator until Napoleon awarded him a yearly pension. In 1808, the year before his death, he became an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Munich. His literary output was extensive, consisting of poems, plays, fairy-tales, “dramatised children’s games” and “prose essays”.

Schubert turns his educational morality poem Der Vatermörder (The Patricide), D. 10 [9] into an absurd horror ballad that engulfs the listener with terrific force, unique even for the young composer who never stints on dramatic appeal even in his earliest Lieder. The song begins with an extended, orchestrally conceived introduction that builds through an effective crescendo from pp to ff heralding the utmost tension and excitement, which in its remit is reminiscent of the introduction to the Queen of the Night’s opening aria in Mozart’s Magic Flute. Within the space of only a few bars, the voice ascends to the heights as the singer relates at once the tragedy of the father’s death and desperate outrage at it while pressing on in its flight and downward dives, ever changing and dramatic, throwing the word sequence and the lines themselves into an expressionist vortex of reiterations, transpositions, and fragmented phrases before being called to a halt by a sudden and effective general pause. There follows a musical drawing out of the words „doch konnt’ er nicht den innern Richter fliehn“ (“but he could not escape his inner judge”), set in slow motion, leading to an apparent point of repose. Then comes the account of the wretched state of the man possessed by “the demon of despair” and his encounter with his pursuer. At the protagonist’s answer to his opponent’s command to halt, however, the young Schubert’s great dramatic talents shine within the space of a few bars of recitativo accompagnato: bizarre self-conceit („Was fromm…“ / “Why innocent?”), suppressed rage („den die Wut kaum hörbar stammeln ließ“ / “whose fury made his stammering barely audible”), and an outburst of hatred („weil die Höllenbrut mich Vatermörder nannte“ / “because this hellish brood called me a parricide”) are brought into sharp focus musically and are portrayed in a highly personal and brilliant manner with a carefully weighted use of intervals, dynamics, harmony and rhythm—It begs the question if the desperate intensity of the music brought about by an outburst of Schubert’s suppressed anger at his father’s severity and harsh authoritarianism: he had forbidden the fourteen-year-old to compose, which was probably due to concerns that Franz’s excessive efforts in this direction would detract from his scholastic performance.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by Neil Coleman


Close the window