|About this Recording
8.557172 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 17 - Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 2
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:
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 2006. 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.
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
In May 1821 Schubert received a letter from Johann Ladislav Pyrker, the Patriarch of Venice: ‘Honoured Sir, I accept with the greater pleasure your proposal to dedicate to me the fourth volume of your incomparable songs, in that there often now return memories of that evening when I was so moved by the profundity of your mind, also explicitly expressed in the music of your Wanderer …’. Ladislav Pyrker, born in 1773, had an important career in the Church, as Abbot and then Archbishop. Throughout his life he was socially engaged. In Karlsruhe and Gastein he founded, during the war with France, sanatoria for the war wounded, and he wrote poetry. He appears at two important points in Schubert’s artistic development. The two first met in 1820 through their common friend Matthäus von Collin. The Opus 4 then dedicated to him by Schubert included the aforementioned famous Wanderer, really central for Schubert’s creative career, a setting of verse by Schmidt von Lübeck (Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 11, North German Poets). In 1825 they probably met again, when Schubert, with the famous singer Michael Vogl, the most important interpreter of Schubert’s songs during the latter’s lifetime, undertook his third great journey to Upper Austria, staying in Linz, Steyr, Salzburg and Gmunden, and in Bad Gastein. There he received from Pyrker himself the poems Die Allmacht (Omnipotence) and Das Heimweh (Homesickness), which gave Schubert texts for two of the most substantial songs included here. Schubert was profoundly moved and inspired by his impressions of this journey, the landscape, nature, culture, and artistic and human encounters. This is evident from two unusually comprehensive and detailed reports of his travels to his brother Ferdinand. Pyrker’s poems directly or indirectly provide a theme for these impressions, Das Heimweh, the connection of the mountain people to the landscape, the grandeur of which could not fail to impress him, Die Allmacht the praise of a God who could create such a thing (and the people with all their possibilities and vicissitudes). This may explain the passionate engagement, the almost overheated intensity of both songs. The personal gift of the poems by Pyrker may also have played a part, since they both seem to have held each other in high esteem.
A further circumstance could similarly have brought about the particular strength of feeling of Das Heimweh. The idea of longing is actually central to Schubert’s songs, yet this longing is almost always directed towards an ideal ‘milderes Land’ (gentler country), as Mayrhofer expressed it, a ‘bessre Welt’ (better world) in the words of Schober, a goal beyond, unattainable on earth. Here, though, it is concrete, in this world, and precisely related to the mountains that so deeply influenced Schubert, a citizen of Vienna. Accordingly his music is direct, robust, concise and tightly constructed, filled with harmonic colours, melodic Alpine yodelling turns of phrase in his conception of the longed for land, but also deeply sad, depressive and of high dramatic intensity in its depiction of the pain of parting. Die Allmacht gave him an opportunity to express his form of piety and devotion: God manifests himself in the ‘beating hearts’ of men, not in the sermons of priests, experienced in nature, not in church. From this directly approachable pantheism in the poem came one of the most dramatic of all Schubert’s songs, almost beyond comprehension, yet credible, in its unbroken pathos untypical of the composer.
Like these two poems, all the other texts here belong to a relatively restricted contemporary and localised part of Schubert’s life. Yet a characteristic of this repertoire is its contrast of opposites, its almost unharmonically realised heterogeneity: the profound philosophy of life of Die abgeblühte Linde (The Faded Lime Tree) stands against the carefree Frohsinn (Joy) and Die Fröhlichkeit (Joyfulness); heaven-storming pantheism in Die Allmacht alternates with Biedermeier songs in praise of the joys of friendship and of wine, women and song, in Der Zufriedene (The Contented Man) and Skolie (Drinking Song); the individual, with a creed verging on the exhibitionist in Der Unglückliche (The Unhappy One) is in contrast with the cliché-ridden genre picture of happy country people in Ferne von der großen Stadt (Far from the great city), and this again with the sensitive, individual, contemporary depiction of the homesick mountain-dweller in Das Heimweh, the chauvinist political song of victory of Die Befreier Europas in Paris (The Liberators of Europe in Paris) with the hymn of Die erste Liebe (First Love). No other song composer has set texts so divergent in style, content and quality, and in the present collection not all the poems are of a high literary level, since most of the writers were dilettanti and not professional. Yet Schubert was never careless in setting his chosen texts, always concerned to bring out the core of the work and find a musical equivalent for it. That in this way his music brought inferior poems to a level of expression that the texts themselves in no way held is a clear proof of his genius. Good poems were for him ones that affected him in his feelings and situation in life and spoke to him from the soul. These inspired his enormous creativity, with them came, as he said, what seemed right. Here versatility should not be taken as lack of discrimination.
Der Unglückliche demonstrates directly and with incredible force one side of Schubert’s view of life, despair over unhappiness in love: Versenke dich in deines Kummers Tiefen, … berechne die verlornen Seligkeiten … du hast ein Herz, das dich verstand gefunden … da stürzte dich ein grausam Machtwort nieder … zerrissen sind nun alle süßen Bande … (Sink into the depths of your sorrow … think of your lost happiness … you have found a heart that understands you … then arose a cruel voice of power … now all the sweet bonds are torn apart). All these snatches from Karoline Pichler’s poem are related to Schubert’s life, and yet the musical setting goes far beyond a personal lament. Just as five years earlier in the poem mentioned by Pyrker, Der Wanderer (originally bearing the title Der Unglückliche) there is a wide curve from the restrained, subdued beginning in a nocturnal atmosphere that is between sadness of spirit and the tender mood of a lullaby to the dramatic, almost physical outburst of consciousness of passion, the short hectically ecstatic look back at past happiness and its breakdown up to the irrevocable condition of loneliness. Musical breaks, abrupt as real disasters, of such drastic severity as at the end of this song, are found in Schubert’s compositions from the 1820s onwards, particularly in his piano and chamber music. Certainly it is not unreasonable to connect this with the shock of syphilis that he contracted at the end of 1822. Naturally this is not to be taken as a single programmatic explanation.
Karoline Pichler, inspired admirer of Schubert and owner of the most important literary salon of the time, is represented by two further texts set by Schubert, which are a world away from the depth of unhappiness of Der Unglückliche, but provide fine examples of writing and music from the shallower reaches of the Biedermeier. Der Sänger am Felsen (The Singer on the Rock), from the idyll of the same name, is, like the pastoral scenario of the text, a typical lament with a sensitive prelude and postlude to which Schubert added the direction ‘flute’ (the pastoral instrument), probably more a suggestion for tone colour than for a real performance with a flautist.
Ferne von der großen Stadt (Far from the great city) offers a criticism of civilisation and an idealisation of nature. In Schubert’s time there were people who preferred the idyll of country life to the noise, dirt and chaos of the city, poets rather in their poems than in fact. At the end of the song comes a musical quotation from Haydn’s Emperor’s Hymn (to which Hoffmann von Fallersleben in 1922 gave the words Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, with a third verse in 1952 for the Bundesrepublik). Whether this was intended as an old-fashioned ironic comment or as a tribute to the composer of The Creation, which praised also the ‘natural’ work of God and not the civilising work of man, is hard to decide.
In Die abgeblühte Linde (The Faded Lime Tree) and Der Flug der Zeit (The Flight of Time) there appears again a theme central to Schubert, that of friendship. It is represented as the only constant in the fleeting nature of time, in the second song through a definite quietening of musical movement at the end of the song, in the first, with its recitative-aria form, with a curious final stretta that sings of the fidelity of the gardner to his tree.
Frohsinn (Joy), Lob des Tokayers (Praise of Tokay), Der Zufriedene (The Contented Man), Skolie (Drinking Song) and Die Fröhlichkeit (Joyfulness) are in style and content set between the Nestroy-type couplet, a simple but witty drinking song, and a composed toast. They seem to have been dashed off with a lighter hand. Closer consideration, nevertheless, shows that Schubert also in this kind of more elevated occasional music, in spite of his audible pleasure in light-hearted song, worked carefully on such compositions. An example is in Skolie where he shows transitoriness through a 2+2+2-bar structure of the vocal line (in contrast to a normal periodic structure lacking two bars), where time too soon passes. There are many examples of this kind.
Labetrank der Liebe (Refreshing Drink of Love), and An die Geliebte (To the Beloved), also set by Beethoven, like Die Sterne (The Stars) by Johann Georg Fellinger, are strophic songs of quietly elegiac character, all three of them examples in Schubert of a rather seldom found untroubled and uninterrupted feeling that all is well.
Vergebliche Liebe (Love in Vain) was written on the same day as Die Sterne and could not be in greater contrast. Pain and despair of the lover at the cruelty of the beloved are set with harmonic daring, sometimes harsh and implacable, unusually ‘modern’ and musically expressive. The form follows the recitativearioso operatic model and thus contributes to the exciting drama of the short, roughly-sketched composition. Perhaps here not everything is rounded and successful, all the same it is thrilling and fascinating when a young composer challenges the boundaries of accepted tradition and exceeds them.
Die erste Liebe (First Love), in content and expression the absolute opposite of the preceding song, is a regular hymn. Fanfares at the wakening of the Vorgefühl des Schönen (Presentiment of beauty) bring, with running repeated chords and endless arcs of melody in the vocal line, the reflection of the beloved, in all her purity. A great manly rejoicing at the final apotheosis, Sie ist die Meine (She is mine), and the pedal point in the postlude seem to underpin the unalterable nature of this fact. All this idealistic transfiguration, which knows nothing and will know nothing of possible disaster, can only be found in Schubert’s early years.
Widerspruch (Contradiction) (for male voice quartet as well as a solo song) sets a poem by Johann Seidl, a poet of importance for Schubert’s late songs (qv. Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition 10, Austrian Contemporaries Vol.1) and is an extreme composition too. Written more than ten years later and almost at the end, therefore, of Schubert’s career as a composer, it develops the incredibly energetic, vital drive of the song on the basis of a single, repeated ground pattern. This, however, does not produce monotony. An enormous dynamic range, surprising modulations, constant changes between full chords in the piano part and basic unison create continuing new moments of surprise. The song seems to balance in its radical unbridled course, its lack of restraint, always on the verge of collapse, this too a sign and expression of a changed view of life.
Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe (Faith, Hope and Love) is one of Schubert’s last songs, written more or less at the same time as the songs in Schwanengesang (Swan-Song). Chorale-type simplicity and an extreme reduction of means produce the meditative and at the same time urgent character of the composition. In the three middle minor-key verses can be heard the movement, melodic structure and piano bass imitation of Der Wegweiser (The Signpost) of Winterreise (Winter Journey). For Schubert, too, love was ‘the greatest among them’ (Brahms: Four Serious Songs), the melodic structure at the beginning and end of the song lets this be clearly heard.
With Die Befreier Europas in Paris (The Liberators of Europe in Paris) we return again to the initial period of Schubert’s career as a composer, and see him here as a man who, like all his friends, had his share in the political life of the time. The poem celebrates the entry of the Austrian Emperor Franz I and his Prussian and Russian allies into Paris on 15th April 1814. The openly chauvinistic triumphalist tone can only be explained bythe traumatic humiliation that had been experienced by people in Austria and Prussia with the earlier campaigns of Napoleonic conquests after the progressive ideals of the French Revolution. It is interesting and fascinating, nevertheless, that Schubert is not a prey to arrogance. His prelude tells of war, but his postlude sings of peace and is more than twice as long.
Abschied (Farewell) is a real rarity. Performed on 17th February 1826 at the end of the one-act Der Falke (The Falcon) by Adolf von Pratobevera for his father’s birthday, it is Schubert’s only melodrama. So moving and naïve is this glance back at life, so puzzling a detail. The piano figuration is borrowed from the famous Forelle (Trout), where it was concerned with loss of freedom, a hidden suggestion, perhaps, that this idyll too could be deceptive. We do not know.
Close the window