About this Recording
8.572110 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 34 - Part Songs, Vol. 3
English  German 

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
Part Songs, Vol. 3 for Male Voices

 

During the whole of the nineteenth century and right up to the present day Schubert’s works for men’s voices have been among the most popular and most widely disseminated of his songs for several voices. The most obvious reason for this would probably be the assumption that, compared with the many-voiced songs for mixed and female ensembles, they are works of a higher compositional level. Yet this is not strictly the case: inspired compositions, refined and catchy light music, in the best sense of the word, and simple strophic forms are distributed relatively evenly throughout the various settings. The reception history of the songs provides us with a much more plausible explanation: the Lieder societies which were already well established in Germany in Schubert’s lifetime, and also later in Austria, and the men’s singing societies had the opportunity to perform Schubert’s works for male voices, so they became more widely circulated.

The Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, published in 1828 in Leipzig, wrote thus: ‘It is well-known that German songs for men have won countless friends everywhere in recent times. Singing societies have been formed in almost every town, and many of them have featured the works of worthy song composers, whose finest qualities have been well worth bringing to the attention of the public.’ In this way Schubert’s works for male ensemble first found a certain dissemination in Germany, while in Austria there were absolutely no choral societies; in Metternich’s restoration regime larger gatherings with an underlying political character were banned, so that the wider circulation of this music began there later, at roughly the same time as the founding of the Viennese Male Voice Society in 1843, which assumed as one of its most fundamental tasks the fostering and wider dissemination of Schubert’s works. Bound up with this history of the music’s reception is a misunderstanding about performance practices: as likely as not most of these works were written for specific performances among convivial circles of friends. The scoring of such works, therefore, was basically conceived on a small scale, to be performed by soloists, perhaps in congenial circumstances and occasionally with two or three voices to a part, but at any rate with the possibility of a certain flexibility in the scoring. But it was essentially soloistic, and not, as was mainly the case in the period following Schubert’s death, performed predominantly in choral versions. Only recently has an original ‘authentic’ performance practice been rediscovered and revived and this brings with it the great bonus of making audible the artistic qualities of these works.

One can divide the works on this recording roughly into three different compositional categories: first of all come the simple, mostly strophic songs, written for, and performable by, amateur singers of all shades. All of them mark specific occasions or events: the various drinking songs, the Bergknappenlied [5] (Miners’ Song) concerning miners about to go down the mine, the funeral song Das Grab [13] (The Grave), and Zur guten Nacht [12] (Good Night), a song of farewell following a convivial evening among friends.

A second type features works of larger forms and dimensions which are more sophisticated, through composed in sections and which set the performers more demanding vocal and virtuosic challenges; yet these works have the unequivocal character of ‘light music’. The compositional structure is always relatively simple: it is melodic, often allied to a certain virtuosity, yet always easily understandable; it has harmonic clarity, rhythmic plasticity, sometimes with a foreground dancelike élan, combined with a ready catchiness of expression which does not stint on a kind of emotional intensity which today we would characterize as inclining towards the sentimental. These works, among them the famous song Das Dörfchen [6] (The Little Village), may cause a certain embarrassment to the cognoscenti and lovers of Schubert’s greatest pieces of music, his best songs, the chamber music and his late symphonic works. It was these compositions which prompted Peter Gülke, in his eminent book on Schubert, to come up with the description of them as ‘middling Schubert’.

Gülke, however, has justifiably and vehemently defended against hasty judgments precisely these works, which conjure up such seemingly alien images to us with our modern life and tastes. Their socio-historical background, their connection to ‘the world of games of forfeits, charades, of tea-parties accompanied by singing and many other sorts of social singing’ has the effect ‘…that all this seems much stranger to us than the great artistic achievements; yet for those people, the conviviality and companionship of these works were destined to be part of their surroundings.’ Moreover, if one poses the question at what artistic level the bourgeois light music of our time is pitched, then Schubert’s contributions to this oft-vilified genre come out not at all badly. But behind all their catchiness there is an unfailing compositional refinement, which does not draw attention to itself.

The third category can be described unambiguously as ‘high art’. Works such as Mondenschein [14] (Moonlight), D. 875, and Nachthelle [16] (Light at Night), D. 892, belong to the ranks of brilliant and inspired works of Schubert. Even when they do not deny their provenance in the earlier-described second category, they transcend these boundaries and display music of a unique kind.

For all their simplicity the three Trinklieder [1] [4] [9] (Drinking Songs) and the Punschlied [7] (Punch Song), D. 277, display four entirely different characteristics; Freunde, sammelt euch im Kreise [1] (Friends, form a circle), D. 75, begins with a baritone solo which is answered by a four-part ‘choir’—where the description ‘choir’ is to be understood as the exact antithesis of the opening solo, and is not to be thought of implicitly as a choral version of that single voice. In the foreground there is a simple Biedermeier-like sociability.

Auf, jeder sei nun froh und sorgenfrei [4] (Come! Let us all be happy and free of care), D. 267, for which Schubert provides a fiery introduction, is more exuberant and witty and is invested with a certain overwrought quality. In its spirit and atmosphere we probably find ourselves here much closer to the future gatherings of Schubert’s friends at which there was neither stuffiness nor homeliness. Punschlied [7], D. 277, is set as a trio. The music puts Schiller’s witty story completely in the foreground, while Brüder, unser Erdenwallen [9] (Brothers, our life on earth), D. 148, again for a soloist who opens proceedings and an ensemble, presents earthy wit in the manner of a Viennese Singspiel and a somewhat stupid male chumminess.

There follow three strophic songs: Bergknappenlied [5], D. 268, combines the gravity of the summons to the miners to descend into the mine with the plea for God’s protection. Zur guten Nacht [12], D. 903, begins with a baritone solo of the ‘chairman’ who announces to the gathered company an end to the evening, while the choir answers in the affirmative. The poem, by the north German poet Friedrich Rochlitz (for solo songs by Rochlitz see the volume North German Poets, Naxos 8.555780), refers to one of the singing circles mentioned at the beginning, which cultivated friendship, song and the consumption of wine: ‘We may rejoice in what we felt, binding us ever more closely to a friend and to art.’

Schubert occupied himself with Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis’s poem Das Grab [13] between 1815 and 1819. Five different arrangements, all for many-voiced ensembles, and variously scored, have come down to us. The third version, D. 377, heard here, for four men’s voices is distinguished by the greatest simplicity, a muted funeral song which rings out with an archaic intensity. (For the thirteen solo songs by Salis-Seewis see Poets of Sensibility Vol. 6, Naxos 8.570480).

With Geist der Liebe [2] (Spirit of Love), D. 747, Schubert’s second version of Friedrich von Matthisson’s poem (for the first version for solo voice, D. 414, see Poets of Sensibility Vols. 1 and 2, Naxos 8.557371–72), we find ourselves in the realm of ‘light music’. All the particular qualities of the genre are to be found here.

For good measure, the merely supportive piano accompaniment, which for long stretches does not have its own independent thematic material, ensures a freedom in the manner of its performance; the piano is expendable and a cappella performances of the work did actually take place in Schubert’s lifetime. In some respects, admittedly, the work transcends its own category: its harmonic structure is uncommonly rich, even discursive, and the dynamic markings for the voices are very sophisticated and meticulously wrought, leaving, as it were, as little as possible to chance or to the interpretative practices of the performers. In the coda (‘Oh Geist der Liebe führe Du dem Jüngling die Erkorne zu’/’O spirit of love, lead the young man to his chosen girl’) the work again assumes a more conventional path: the fugal nature of the closing theme enables each individual singer to be heard as a soloist, before the whole ensemble comes together for the end in the expressive final phrase (‘…mit Himmelsglanz die Erdenwelt’/’…the earthly world in heavenly radiance’).

Die Nachtigall [3] (The Nightingale), D. 724, by Johann Karl Unger is quite similar in its formal structure, albeit with simpler harmonies, and is at the same time virtuosic and memorable in its melodic representation of the soaring bird-song.

With all the apparent bourgeois tranquillity of Gottfried August Bürger’s poem Das Dörfchen, with its idealised descriptions of life on the land and the harmony of nature, one should remember that, in Schubert’s time, the widespread popularity of the lyrical idyll also had as a base a desire to be different, even deviant: ‘The plebeian pride of the poet sets his carefree attitude against that of the king…and adds something provocative to the detail of the description of the idyll’ (Gülke). In Schubert’s setting D. 641 [6] this hidden rebellion is certainly not easily detectable, and it is perhaps for this reason that there is a charming, if barely tacit acknowledgment to the requirements of this type of ensemble singing in Schubert’s employment of astonishing compositional refinements. All the singers, not only the lead singer, the first tenor, are given plenty of opportunities to exhibit their vocal abilities, by means of musical sound painting, harmonic complexity, extended coloratura passages, rhythmic changes, melismata and finally a highly-expressive ensemble sound.

Im Gegenwärtigen Vergangenes [8] (The Past in the Present), D. 710, also begins idyllically, yet Goethe’s poem from his West-Östlichen Divan turns out to be a deeply philosophical work about youth and old age. The ongoing impact of the past on the future allows for the possibility that ‘…what you once enjoyed in the past…let others now enjoy’, may lead, finally, from youthful communal love into a rich sociability: ‘It is fitting to enjoy the day’s end with those who know how to enjoy’. Schubert’s setting begins with Goethe’s depiction of ‘the future’, with an extended tenor solo, followed by a section dedicated to memories (‘und da duftet’s wie vor Alters…’/’there is the scent of the past…’) continuing with a duet until, at the return into the future (‘Nun die Wälder ewig sprossen…’/’Now the woods blossom eternal’), the entire vocal quartet is heard together for the first time; then the closing section underlines, in an austerely fugal episode, (‘Und mit diesem Lied und Wendung…’/’And with this song and phrase…’) the philosophically didactic character of the poem, before, finally, a sonorous tutti ensemble (‘…mit Genießern zu genießen’/’with those who know how to enjoy’) reiterates the positive final phrase of the poet’s thoughts.

Die Advokaten [10] (The Lawyers), D. 37, occupies a special place on this recording. This ‘comic trio’ dating from 1812 is an arrangement of a work by the composer Anton Fischer who was Kapellmeister at the Theater an der Wien. Schubert applied many melodic twists to the formal structure, but in other respects it is to a great extent a new arrangement and it was written probably for performance at the Konvikt school in Vienna where Schubert was a pupil. We hear two grasping lawyers, who harass a client to pay his bills on the spot, without any reductions. His timid question as to whether his many earlier gifts of bribery could be taken into account in his favour is brusquely turned down—the first and only purpose of the legal function, it seems, is to insist on ‘balancing the books’. Sanctimoniousness, cupidity and the sleazy gratification of the jingling of money in the purse are wittily and trenchantly characterized in the music of Schubert and Fischer.

Frühlingsgesang [11] (Spring Song), D. 740, to a poem by his friend Franz von Schober elicits from Schubert that ‘Wanderer-rhythm’ which he used so often and with such telling effect as a sign of the start of better (spring-) times. The work demands, especially from the first tenor, the greatest application, great security and flexibility in the coloratura singing. Surprisingly, at the end of the second part, which is once again fugal, there appears no mawkish development, but a further acceleration of the tempo as an expression of the forward-pressing nature of the whole song. Mondenschein [14], D. 875, also by Schober, stands on the cusp between ‘occasional’ and ‘absolute’ music: at the beginning the quintet resembles a more ‘modest’ ensemble. It begins without an introduction, in a rocking 6/8 time, the piano only in a supporting rôle, without its own musical material. Yet when the third verse starts (‘Doch seht, die Fluren sind vertauscht’/’But look, the meadows are transformed’) the sound and the style begin to change: by means of a climactic, explosive modulation the heavenly ‘silver garden’ opens up, in a merging of reality and fantasy. Now the music proceeds with a greater harmonic and melodic freedom into ‘the utter bliss of heaven’, before the song of the nightingale calls the nocturnal dreamers gently back into ‘its world’. At this point Schubert does not follow the pattern of the new closing section, but, with the reprise of the opening music, creates an A-B-A form, which rounds things off with a gentle, harmonically and melodically unconventional closing phrase.

Widerspruch [15] (Contradiction), D. 865, (for the solo version see Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 2 (Naxos 8.557172)) by Johann Gabriel Seidl in many respects resembles Frühlingsgesang: the ‘Wanderer’ rhythm, a dashing pace, and an impulsive forward movement embody its character, yet, as with Mondenschein, it is in a three-part A-B-A form. Nachthelle [16], D. 892, also by Seidl, is perhaps the most inspired work on this recording; unobtrusive, yet compositionally highly advanced and emotionally deeply moving. The piano creates an uninterrupted, gentle ribbon of sound by means of a continuous chordal chain of semiquavers, a symbol of the night sky, like the peaceful, meditative condition of its observer. At the beginning the solo voice and the ensemble are kept apart; the melodic and syntactic half-phrases of the soloist are repeated by the ensemble either note for note or in a modified form, as though lost deeply in thought. But in the middle of the song, beginning with the words ‘so full and overfull’ the soloist and ensemble find an ever closer accord, so that finally, at the gently ecstatic climax (‘the last barrier breaks’) they merge into a sonic whole of great lyrical and dramatic intensity. So Seidl’s previously tranquil and innocuous poem has, almost accidentally, been broadened through Schubert’s music into the representation of a completely intimate, unassuming, yet nevertheless overpowering experience of universal harmony, in a manner which has rarely been achieved in the history of music.


Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version: David Stevens

 

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 2010. 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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