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8.550476 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lieder (Takacs, Jandó)
Franz Schubert (1797 - 1828)
Although not of Viennese parentage, Franz Schubert was born in Vienna, the son of a schoolmaster, and spent his short life there, often in the company of friends, who took particular pleasure in the music he wrote for their entertainment. Unlike Beethoven, who died a year before him, he never enjoyed the patronage of the nobility, and occupied no official position in the musical life of the city, although at the time of his death publishers were showing increasing interest in his work. Schubert's early musical training had been as a chorister of the Imperial Chapel, a position that allowed general education at the Staats-Konviktin Vienna. Rejecting the offer of further study at his school, he trained briefly as a teacher, and from 1815 taught intermittently at his father's school, while concentrating his energies on composition. He showed a particular gift in the writing of songs, and in 1815 wrote some 150, with 100 more the following year. By the time of his death in November 1828 he had written over 600 songs of unfailing inspiration, miraculous couplings of words and music, in which both melody and piano accompaniment serve a dramatic purpose. The poems chosen vary in quality, with more than seventy settings of words by Goethe, and others of verses by less gifted contemporaries and friends, works to which the music has given life and eternity.
An die Musik (To Music), written in 1817, sets words by Schubert's friend Franz von Schober, into whose rooms in the inner city he had moved in 1816. It was here that he first met the singer Michael Vogl, a distinguished performer at the Kärntnertor Theatre, who was soon to be singing Schubert's songs. An die Musik is a prayer of gratitude to the art, the shape of the melodic opening dictated by the first words, Du holde Kunst, a consolation in periods of melancholy. Heidenröslein, a setting of a poem by Goethe, composed in 1815, is of deceptive simplicity. A boy sees a rose and picks it, but with the rose there is a thorn that pricks him. The melody could be that of a simple folk-song, but words and music both suggest something much deeper. There is something of the same feeling in Die Forelle (The Trout), with words by the eighteenth century poet and musician Christian Schubart, its first version composed in 1817 and later to serve as the basis of a variation movement in the famous Trout Quintet of 1819. The poet sees an angler and a trout that bids fair to outwit him, only to be caught in the end.
Auf dem Wasser zu singen, the song written in 1823, the year in which the first signs of the illness that was to bring Schubert's death five years later became apparent, takes words by Count Friedrich Leopold Stolberg, a friend of Goethe. A little boat floats on the water in the evening light, reminding the poet of the human spirit, gliding through the waters of joy and of the transitory nature of life, as days fly away. A strophic song, in which the three verses of the poem are sung to a repeated melody, it breathes the gentle peace of an evening on the water. The words of Du bist die Ruh (You are my joy, my peace in sadness, my yearning and its consolation) are of greater distinction, by the poet and Orientalist Friedrich Rückert. Schubert set this and four other poems for a recently published collection of verses by Rückert in 1823.
Im Frühling (In the Spring) was written in 1826, a setting of words from the Poetisches Tagebuch of the young poet Ernst Schulze, who had died of tuberculosis in 1817, after the early death of his beloved Cäcilie. The verse recalls a happier spring-time, before the death of his beloved, poignantly remembered. In Wandrers Nachtlied Schubert returns to Goethe. Über allen Gipfein ist die Ruh' (Over all the tree-tops is stillness), one of the most famous poems in the German language, provides the basis of a remarkable miniature, the music composed, at the latest by l824. The song Nachtund Träume (Night and Dreams), written in 1823, is a setting of words by Matthaus von Collin, tutor to Napoleon's son, with music that captures the tranquillity of the verse, the spirit of holy night and the peaceful dreams it brings with it. Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), by the same poet, the song published by Schubert in 1823, is a typically allusive ballad. The dwarf of the title kills the queen that he loves, as they sail together over the sea, to which he commits her body. Dedicated to von Collin, the song opens with an ominous bass figure that is to recur Gretchen am Spinnrade (Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel) is a setting of words by Goethe, made in 1814, the first of Schubert's Goethe settings. Gretchen, seduced by Faust, awaits the return of her lover. The spinning-wheel turns, its motion only momentarily interrupted, as Gretchen recalls the joy of love, now her peace has been destroyed so that she longs only for the kiss of love and in that kiss death. Die junge Nonne (The Young Nun), a setting of verses by Baron von Craigher made early in 1825, moves from stormier emotions to the tranquillity of the convent, as the young nun sings her final alleluias.
Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, published in 1795-6, a Bildungsroman that centres on the self-revelation of the hero, includes some of the writer's best songs, including those allotted to the strange waif-like gypsy girl Mignon, rescued from a troupe of circus acrobats by Wilhelm Meister. The poems provided an inspiration to other composers. In the song Heiss mich nicht reden, heiss mich schweigen (Ask me no questions, tell me to be silent), Mignon vows to keep her mysterious secret, although she longs too to share her secret longing. In So lasst mich scheinen, bis ich werde (Let me appear now as I shall be), Mignon sings of her coming death and the tomb, where she will remain a little while, from which she will rise transfigured. The last of the group, Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt, weiss, was ich leide (None but an aching heart knows my suffering) is a song of ineffable yearning. The Suleika songs of Goethe are taken from his collection of poems after Hafiz, the Westöstlicher Divan. Suleika, representing the writer's close friend of those years, Marianne von Willemer, who later claimed authorship of the Suleika songs set by Schubert in 1821. Suleika, in love, seeks an answer from the east from her absent lover, and charges the west wind with her own loving response.
Der Tod und das Mädchen (Death and the Maiden), material used later in a string quartet known by the same name, is a setting of a poem by Matthias Claudius, composed in 1817. Claudius, a poet of apparent ingenuousness, makes of death, Freund Hein, a figure of comfort and relief. Here the girl is terrified at the sight of the man of bones, who tells her he comes as a friend, a claim belied by the sinister and insistent rhythm of the music.
Erikönig (Erl-King), one of the best known of all Schubert's songs, is a setting of Goethe's ghostly ballad. The poem was written in 1782 and published as part of the writer's Die Fischerin. Schubert wrote his treatment of the ballad in 1815. The vivid and dramatic story shows a father anxiously riding through the forest, carrying in his arms his sick child, lured from him by the sinister elfin king, the Erlkönig of the title, the narrative adapted from a Danish legend. The music reflects the terror of the ride, the fears of the father and the seductive power of the Erlkönig.
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