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8.557832 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 26 - Romantic Poets, Vol. 3
English  German 

THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION • 25

Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of Poems by Romantic Poets, Vol. 3

 

“By giving a higher meaning to that which is common, the appearance of mystery to the ordinary, the dignity of the unfamiliar to the well-known and infinite significance to the finite, so I may be said to romanticize it”. Thus reads the famously descriptive definition of “romantic” by the poet Novalis, (the pen name of Friedrich von Hardenberg) with which he summarised the agenda of an entire artistic epoch. German Romanticism, however, did not prove at all consistent in its vision; in literature, mythological transfiguration, self-centred and eccentrically subjective emotionalism and enraptured ecstasy are found side by side with biting satire, reflections on the unity of all things tinged with religiosity and razorsharp analysis of real circumstances.

As the opening quotation indicates, the entire Romantic movement in any case shares some inherent common ground: its alternately veiled and overt religious associations were symptomatic of a strong necessity to work against the threat of the secularisation and trivialisation of life brought about by the Enlightenment, the increasing importance of science and the incipient stages of the Industrial Revolution. Its mysteries were said to be held in check by any enlightenment reasoning whatsoever, even of the slightest explicable being, and everyday activities made barren by rationalisation, mechanisation and industrial organization, being ever predictable and entirely subject to their feasibility; these were meant to regain their meaning, significance and “divine” purpose.

Novalis was a leading proponent of this religious form of romanticism. Born into a Pietist family in 1772, he was raised in the Lutheran town of Mansfeld, studied law in Jena, Leipzig and Wittenberg and later mining science in Freiberg, was a close friend of the brothers Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck, and was acquainted with Goethe, Schiller and Hölderlin. He was employed by the managers of the Weißenfels salt-works and died of consumption at the age of only twenty-nine in 1801. One of the main events in his life was the death of Sophie von Kühn; he had been betrothed to the thirteenyear- old in 1795, two years before her death. In a state of shock Novalis developed a longing for death characterised by religious mysticism that found expression in his Hymnen an die Nacht (Hymns to the Night). In Schubert’s setting of the extract taken from the fourth hymn (“Hinüber wall ich …”), the aim of Novalis’s view of death becomes perfectly clear: it was intended to be a bridge to eternal love, union and joy. A mixture of ecstatic mysticism and Christian spirituality becomes particularly clear at this point, but it also contains elements of intellectual and carnal love associated with Eros and “Thanatos” (Freud’s designation for the death wish): “I rush upwards to be there and every torment will be a stab of delight. In a short while I will be free and lie intoxicated in the lap of love”. The fifteen Geistlichen Lieder (Spiritual Songs) written at the same time are in the same mould although they were kept simpler. Novalis declared that he intended some of them for inclusion in the Protestant hymn-books of the nineteenth century. In these songs Christian themes are treated subjectively with childlike devotion in emotional lyric poetry that is an expression of the centuries-old mystical Christian tradition of personal feeling, conversion and dedication to Christ, his Death, Resurrection and Redeeming Work.

Apart from the few surviving settings by Johann Friedrich Reichardt and his daughter Louise, it is interesting that Schubert was the only Romantic composer to set the lyric poetry of Novalis. This occurred at the time when Schubert was increasingly involved with the works of Romantic poets around 1820 and was exploring several new avenues. This is clearly noticeable in the Novalis settings, which likewise astonish us by the assurance with which the composer matches a particular tone in this highly specialised lyric poetry: Novalis’s poetry of mystical Catholicism encouraged Schubert to write in a similarly rapturous, exuberant way, but also induced him to fall back on traditional methods of composition – chorale, strophic song, recitative and arioso – that acted as a counterbalance to the poetic simplicity and clear musical structure. This change of direction towards external simplicity and succinctness of form (that is nevertheless always subordinate to Schubert’s compositional mastery, although this is not exactly obvious) is the expression of an artistic maturing and realignment that comes to completion finally in the great cycles Winterreise and Schwanengesang, where the greatest concentration and purity of expression is achieved by subjecting the musical material to the severest strictures.

It is not clear whether the five lieder D658 – D662 were conceived as some sort of cycle. They do in any case demonstrate their own musical consistency as a self-contained group in addition to having a certain inner logic. Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (Few know love’s secret) takes the Last Supper as its theme (Palmsonntag - Palm Sunday); Wenn ich ihn nur habe (If only I have him) and Wenn alle untreu werden (If all should be false) concern the sufferings and death of Christ, the loyalty and otherwise of his disciples, and thoughts of redemption (Karfreitag - Good Friday); Ich sag’ es jedem, dass er lebt (I say to all that he lives) deals with the Resurrection (Easter). The Geistliche Lied or spiritual song, Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern (I see you in a thousand pictures), D658 [4], probably incorrectly designated “Marie” or “Maria”, would then seem to be a casually added prologue or epilogue addressed to the Mother of God. Here we have our first surprise as we listen to Schubert’s setting: the extreme economy of the music is non-sacred, a far cry from the manner of the chorale or sacred oratorio; instead it is graceful and dance-like, shot through with an inner light and could also very well do duty as a love song. In this way, Schubert perfectly matches the subjective, intimate tone of Novalis’s lyrics that hover, far removed from any religious dogma, between religious and erotic intimacy.

With its vivid and complex style, the poem on which Hymne: Wenige wissen das Geheimnis der Liebe (Hymn: Few know love’s secret), D659 [5] is based is unique amongst Schubert’s five Geistliche Lieder. This is a through-composed work opening with an austere and objective yet impressive exposition of the first stanza; following this, at “Des Abendmahls göttliche Bedeutung…” the previously unrelenting key of A minor gives way more or less as it moves towards the relative key of C major. At the words “Aber wer jemals von heißen, geliebten Lippen...” (But who then with hot adorable lips) the music surges eagerly ahead as the harmony brightens, whereas “des Himmels unergründlicher Tiefe” (Heaven’s unfathomable depths) is given a dark pathos. Finally, in the conclusion to the first part, “Wird essen von seinem Leibe…” (Shall eat of his body), a relaxed, quietly confident assurance shows itself. Again and again in the course of the composition, Schubert writes “easy” music with static chords, declamatory recitative and short, clear motifs. In the final section of the poem, where the symbolism of the Last Supper is openly associated with the erotic (“Oh dass das Weltmeer schon errötete…” – Oh that the ocean blushed), the simple, unpretentious piano part consists of supportive, urgently pulsating chords over which the voice part rises fervently in delicious, ever more expansive melodic phrases with a gentle urgency. Finally, having been held back momentarily at a dramatic pause, the music bursts forth at the words “Und so währt der Liebe Genuss…” (Thus the pleasure of love maintains…) released in its entirety into a musical torrent of the utmost sensuality that gives perfect expression as much to religious as erotic ecstasy.

Wenn ich ihn nur habe (If only I have him), D660 [6], and Wenn alle untreu werden (If all should be false), D661 [7], are more straightforward in structure and share the same key and time signature. They derive their plasticity and urgency from the shift from minor to major that occurs halfway through the verse. This represents the transformation of Christ’s suffering into the good of mankind in a musically accessible and intelligible way. Ich sag’ es jedem, dass er lebt (I say to all that he lives), D662 [8], may take the listener aback with its childlike piety and enthusiasm for the Resurrection, but it fits seamlessly into the cycle of spiritual songs and brings it renewed vigour in the wake of the two preceding contemplative settings.

Nachthymne (Night Hymn), D687 [9], was written in January 1820 as a “latecomer” to the other Novalis settings of May 1819. In its broad dimensions it is similar to the hymn Wenige wissen… and yet it is quite different in nature and even more so in comparison with the other Novalis lieder. The orchestral richness of colour, the series of tremolos in the middle section over which the voice unfolds in rapt, wide-ranging phrases at “ich schaue von oben herunter nach dir” (I gaze at you from above); the next passage is similar in style to operatic accompagnato recitative; and the closing section is written as an arioso grand finale (“Ich fühle des Todes verjüngende Flut…”) which, in conjunction with Novalis’ extraordinary poetry on the subject of death, makes the composition unique within Schubert’s considerable output as a composer of lieder.

In the course of his short life Novalis was not the only one drawn to examine religious matters, particularly in the form of Catholicism and medieval mysticism. Other German Romantics went through similar conversions including Brentano and Eichendorff; and Zacharias Werner went so far as ordination for the priesthood. Foremost amongst them was Friedrich Schlegel, whose conversion to Catholicism undertaken with his wife in 1808, marks a turning away from free-thinking to search for an intellectual focus of attention, hierarchy and a supposedly historically organic unified structure. In his Poetischen Taschenbuch für das Jahr 1806 Schlegel quoted a poem from the Trutznachtigall, a collection of spiritual songs by the Jesuit, moral theologian and lyric poet of the Baroque, Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld. Schubert found the two poems by Schlegel in the same book and set them to music in 1816. Vom Mitleiden Mariä (Mary’s Compassion), D632 [11], is another quite exceptional work amongst his lieder: a strict, three-part texture similar to medieval polyphony (which Schubert would no more have known or studied than Bach’s) without any performance indications, replete with dissonances, archaic and pure, this brief, three-verse song has an immediacy to its profundity that is striking. Blanka - Das Mädchen (Blanka: The Maiden), D631 [10], has a charm all of its own. The constant harmonic shifts between major and minor are not expressive of complete changes of mood in this case, but of an ambivalence of feeling caught between hope and fear. Like the poem, the music has a fair amount of aesthetic appeal and is similarly highly stylised as if it were behind glass. By comparison, both settings by Friedrich Schlegel’s brother August Wilhelm, Die verfehlte Stunde (The Hour That Failed), D409 [12], and Lob der Tränen (Praise of Tears), D711 [14], are kept more conventional, the first having an urgency and longing that does not come to rest until the concluding words “Das nur stillt mein Sehnen” (That alone stills my longing). The second song’s serenely flowing Italianate bel canto melody to Schlegel’s philosophical outpouring on the uplifting effect of weeping that nobly eschews the portrayal of individual scenes is, however, highly apt in the way it reflects the at once wistfully nostalgic and conciliatory tone of Schlegel’s thoughts.

The war minister, poet and literary critic Christian Wilhelm von Schütz (also a convert to the Catholic faith) was well acquainted with the circle of Berlin Romantics around August Wilhelm Schlegel and Ludwig Tieck. His Lied der Delphine (Delphine’s Song), D857/1 [1], is Florio’s beloved in the play Lacrimas. Unlike the languorous Florio (see Romantics Poets 2, Naxos 8.557831), her state of being in love makes her restless and eager for excitement. The “butterflies” in her stomach can be heard in the music and only rarely does Schubert allow sopranos such an effective long-held top C to express effusive emotion.

With Aloys Wilhelm Schreiber, a teacher, theatre critic and professor of aesthetics, we encounter a selfproclaimed and determined opponent of the Romantic movement, which can scarcely be gleaned from the poetry settings alone here as they strike us immediately as being thoroughly romantic in effect, even wildly effusive in tone and in what they describe.

An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht (To the Moon on an Autumn Night), D614 [3], is one of the most beautiful and perfect of Schubert’s many unjustly neglected lieder. It displays at once an incomparably calm and intimate atmosphere together with immense breadth of tone and feeling. The compositional mastery and deeply intimate involvement of the composer are apparent in its discreet and yet lucid portrayal of the “soft tread” of the moon in the heavens; the outburst at the dark confession with violent discords at “wenn ein schrecklicher Geier an der Seele nagt” (when a terrible vulture preys on the soul); the gloriously cheerful dancing gesture at “hüpfende Knabe” (skipped as a boy); the totally unexpected and overwhelming change at “unbekannten Sehnen” (unfamiliar longing) that seizes the poet’s young heart; the tender, melancholy loving care at “Stätte, wo meine Lieben ruhn” (places wherein my loves rest); the restrained but anxious realization at “mein wird man nicht mehr gedenken” (mine will no longer be remembered) and the resumption of the flow that follows at “auf dieser schönen Erde” (on this beautiful earth), a musical representation of the earth’s course continuing. In Der Blumenbrief (The Message of Flowers), D622 [2], Schubert brings musical hyperbole to the well-known lyrical theme of the admirer’s desperate pleas and memorable music to his amiable threats that is richly melodious and tender. Sprinkled with dissonances and sighing motifs, it succeeds in balancing fantastic gravity with yearning veneration in masterly fashion.

As an individual lied, Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, (The Shepherd on the Rock), D965 [14] one of Schubert’s last compositions, might well be described as the summum opus of his work as a song composer. In many respects it is quite exceptional: the compilation of the text drawn from three separate poems, written, moreover, by two different authors, Wilhelm Müller and Helmina von Chézy, is unique; the introduction of the clarinet as a second melody instrument (or perhaps more fairly “song-instrument”) is to be found in only one other composition, Auf dem Strome, which is likewise a late work, scored with horn; the large-scale tripartite form approaches the overall structure of the classical sonata in several of its formal aspects and follows the sequence “slow-fast-slow”. Thus it goes far beyond the “normal” dimensions of the lied; the diversity of styles, ranging from alpine yodelling motifs in the first section, through the seemingly endless tension expressing the deepest grief in the aria-like melody of the middle section (reminiscent of Pamina’s famous aria “Ach, ich fühl’s…”), to the effusive virtuoso coloratura of the final section. Ostensibly disparate elements are united in an harmonious whole, the musical genius of which serves a purpose one alone: to give purity of expression to the profoundest human feeling in the face of the pleasure and tragedy of existence.

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English translation by Neil Coleman


The sung text and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/557832.htm

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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 2008. 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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