About this Recording
8.570961 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 32 - Part Songs, Vol. 1
English  German 

Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
Part Songs, Vol. 1

 

Schubert occupied himself with the genre of the mixed-voice part-song throughout the whole of his compositional life; around 130 individual works, from simple canons to straightforward homophonic movements, from elaborate part-songs with piano accompaniment to cantatas in several parts with soloists, chorus and orchestra all testify to that. The German Schubert Song Edition presents, on three single discs (Naxos 8.570961, 8.570962 and 8.572110), all the songs with piano accompaniment which are to be performed with soloists (i.e. without chorus). Just as the musical forms, as well as the themes of the songs in this genre, are many and diverse, so too are the circumstances of the writing of individual compositions. After his early studies under the tutelage of Antonio Salieri Schubert produced many part-songs, either as works written to commission or as ‘social music’ for performance among his circle of friends or acquaintances: surprise serenades to celebrate birthdays, songs of thanksgiving for recovery from illness, songs for theatrical entertainment, drinking-songs and songs for convivial gatherings. But there are also simple part-songs, written for no particular reason, which merely owe their existence to the inspiration of a poem having been read to the composer. The themes here are the praise of God, death and resurrection, and the contemplation of nature and life.

The question of what forces Schubert intended for performance of the songs presents difficulties. Admittedly, in most cases the individual voices are indicated—for example soprano, alto, tenor, bass—but the question of whether to use a choral or solo line-up becomes clear only when Schubert writes down ‘chorus’ at the beginning of the score, which actually is not often the case; conversely, it would be wrong to assume that, in those songs where the instruction for choral performance is missing, only a soloistic approach is legitimate. The reasons for these difficulties are easy to name: in many cases Schubert could not possibly have been bothered by the question of the performance forces involved. Songs such as Viel tausend Sterne prangen [track 8] (Many Thousand Stars Shine Out) or Das Abendrot (Sunset) can be performed equally well with either solo or choral forces, so a certain flexibility with regard to the performing forces available at the time was desirable and partly inevitable.

In Schubert’s time there was no choral tradition, outside the church, in the southern German-speaking regions. The singing clubs and male-voice choirs which were widespread in the north evolved within the surroundings of the north German song schools, which furnished these ensembles with catchy, easy-to-sing choral movements.

There was nothing similar in Schubert’s environment, so there was no opportunity for him to write for established choirs—there were none. Performance practice, therefore, had to be tailored appropriately: if there was only one singer available for each part then it would be performed soloistically, otherwise with chorus.

The group of poets whose lyrics Schubert drew on, contains names still famous today, such as Schiller and Klopstock, as well as the countless occasional poets from his closer and wider circle who are present throughout his output of songs. It is interesting to note that, with a few exceptions, these poets are represented also in Schubert’s solo songs, which raises the question: why, from several poems by the same author, he would set one as a solo song and another as a part-song. Here, naturally, the content of the texts plays a part, perhaps suggesting a many-voiced approach, as in Die Geselligkeit [track 1] (Fellowship) and Der Tanz [track 13] (The Dance); then again where the poem stipulates a change of rôles (Begräbnislied/Funeral Song [track 2] and Der Hochzeitsbraten/The Wedding Roast [track 10] and, finally, in some cases, also a dramatic-pathetic style, to whose monumentality Schubert thought he could give expression only by deploying several voices (Hymne an den Unendlichen/Hymn to the Infinite and Gott im Ungewitter/God in the Storm).

One could make Die Geselligkeit, D. 609 [track 1] (Fellowship), by Johann Karl Unger, the motto for the whole of Schubert’s part-song output. Singing together meant conviviality. In the circles of music-mad Viennese friends music was sung in salons at meetings, celebrations and soirées. Die Geselligkeit gives a wonderful and authentic impression of the refined atmosphere and celebratory mood of those kinds of occasions: vibrant, dance-like, merry, at the same time it rings out as stylish and cultured.

Nun lasst uns den Leib begraben, D. 168 [track 2] (Now let us bury the body), is a muted, sombre antiphonal song alternating between mourning and the dead person speaking, as it were, ‘offstage’. The song combines two verses of a poem with a musical double strophe. The ‘superfluous’ closing strophe is left as a coda to the chorus of mourners. Here Schubert deviates musically from the strophic form and brings out new harmonic and melodic details, without lifting the sombre mood. So the closing plea ‘Lass unsre ganze Seele Dein/Und freudig unser Ende sein’ (“Let our soul be yours completely/And may our end be happy”) remains unresolved, vacillating between hope and despair.

Like the previous song Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, D. 168a [track 3] (Jesus Christ, Our Saviour), an ode by the famous Klopstock, is a simple but powerful Easter chorale which Schubert probably wrote as a counterpart to the previous song.

Gott, der Weltschöpfer, D. 986 [track 4] (God, the Creator of the World), is a hymn to the glory of God and is composed in a great arc: after a fanfare-like beginning and a sweeping continuation, which comes to a climax on a dramatic dominant-chord pause, we hear, at the words ‘Er hieß das alte Nichts gebären’ (“He ordered the ancient void to give birth”) a surprising effect: the new, the new-born, is hurled off into a powerful, virtually arbitrary harmonic direction. After a quiet chorale-like passage a wide-reaching intensification forms the second part as the climax and end of the song. In spite of its altogether conventional style Schubert’s song convinces on account of its hymn-like power and lively freshness.

Like the previous song, Gott im Ungewitter, D. 985 [track 5] (God in the Storm), has a text by the Franconian poet Johann Peter Uz. Both songs probably date from the summer of 1816, like Uz’s original five solo songs (in Poets of Sensibility Vol. 6 (Naxos 8.570480)). Gott im Ungewitter presents a dramatic ensemble music, full of contrast. Schubert places the polyphonically-fugal opening extremely effectively in contrast with the following homophonic, no less dramatic, passages, which sing of the fear of the thunderstorm as a manifestation of godly power. As dramatic as it is surprising is the gracious god, ‘the great friend of mankind’, who spares humble men from disaster in the lyrical and moving closing section.

Friedrich Schiller published Hymne an den Unendlichen, D. 232 [track 6] (Hymn to the Infinite), in his Anthologie auf das Jahr 1782, in which he gathered together his youthful poems, odes, satires and epigrams and which he dedicated to “my master—death”. Schiller’s tremendously expressive, dramatic, language, overflowing with fantasy, belongs entirely to his Sturm und Drang period and it inspired Schubert to a powerful setting, which alternates between mighty tutti passages and fugal sections. With its big arc from the fortissimo at the start to the pianissimo of the respective verse ending it is a musical depiction of the huge span between God’s omnipotence and the minuteness of the “decent worm”, of mankind who, in the face of the “elemental force” of nature, becomes aware of God’s existence (“the hurricane roars out the name of Zeboath”). Even if the strophic form of the music does not do justice to the textual peculiarities of the second and third verses (a weakness which it shares with the opening of Die Geselligkeit) the overall effect of the song is impressive and the meaning of the words “elemental”.

Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten, to whose poems Schubert composed 21 solo songs, is the writer of Das Abendrot, D. 236 [track 7] (Sunset), which is set as a trio in a gentle, meditative homophonic movement.

Viel tausend Sterne prangen, D. 642 [track 8] (Many thousand stars shine out), probably dates from 1812 and Schubert’s time at the Konvikt School. What is remarkable about this work, probably Schubert’s first vocal quartet, is its obbligato piano accompaniment; that is to say that the piano part does not proceed only in parallel with the voices but liberates itself from them with its own musical figures and links the first part of the song to the second with a ten-bar interlude.

An die Sonne, D. 439 [track 9] (To the Sun), by Uz, a reflection on the finite nature of life, obviously suffers because of the shortcomings of the poetry itself. Here it can be seen clearly, in comparison with the Hymne an den Unendlichen for example, how strongly Schubert reacted to the originality, personal depth and authenticity of a poetic model and was reliant on these attributes. The in this case very conventional style of the ‘memento mori’ topic, through Uz, is furnished by Schubert with a somewhat stereotyped, less personal music which only in some places (‘Ich fühle, dass ich sterblich bin…’) achieves a real depth of feeling.

The theatrical mini-opera Der Hochzeitsbraten, D. 930 [track 10] (The Wedding Roast), to a libretto by Franz von Schober, with its three protagonists—the betrothed Therese and Theobald as well as the hunter Kaspar—tells the story of the hunted hare which is to be served as the wedding roast, of the discovery of the heinous deed by the hunter, who threatens “jail” and “the workhouse”, but who, finally, in the face of the beauty of the bride, exercises “mercy over right”. The work was written as though for performance at a “hen night,” so this is “social music” in the best sense. Actually Schubert offered the work to the publishing house of Schott in Mainz with the comment that it had already “been performed to applause”. Shortly after his death the work was presented in November 1827 in the Theater in der Josephstadt in a staged version with instruments. With all its lightness and the popularity of the musical movement it shows apt musical personal characteristics, precisely placed and calculated “gags” such as the unbelievably comic shoot with all its “gsch—gsch” and “brr—brr”s, refined dramaturgical tricks, such as the appearance of the hunter which is at first not noticed by the pair, and dialogue with wit and linguistic innuendo: “Ah, I must lard the hunter instead of the hare’s back”, in which “to lard” is associated not only with the commonest taboo word in the world but introduces also its most widely-used colloquial meaning of “to grease the palm”. The closing section is formed of a sort of lieto fine, a happy ending, a contemplatively-happy ending and Schubert furnishes it with a truly Alpine yodelling melody of the young pair, which, at first, though, counteracts strongly with the hunter (‘hol euch der Fuchs’/“The devil take you!”) and later, fanning his jealousy of the bridegroom, is mockingly parodied. All this “reveals the hand of an experienced opera composer, which Schubert, in spite of all his flops, would doubtless have become at the end of his life.” (Dietrich Berke)

Schubert received a commission fee of fifty gulden to set the text of an author unknown today “To celebrate the recovery of a Herr Ritter”. Schicksalslenker, blicke nieder, D763 [track 11] (Master of our Fate, look down), is therefore “occasional music”, a work written for a special reason, and thus one with specific textual references. Even with a setting of high quality, as in this case, it is difficult to specify the wider appeal of a work of this kind. The publisher Diabelli tried to get round this impediment, by greatly altering and re-interpreting the posthumous first edition of the quartet and giving it the title, by which it is known today, of Des Tages Weihe/Hymne zur Namens- und Geburtstagsfeier. This considerably increased the opportunities for performing the song, as well as enhancing Diabelli’s own possibilities for income.

Schubert composed Gebet, D. 815 [track 12] (Prayer), to a poem by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué, in September 1824 during his second stay at the summer residence of Count Esterházy in Zselíz, where he was engaged as private tutor to the Count’s two daughters. The members of the Count’s family were highly musical and were able to form a vocal ensemble: the elder daughter sang soprano, the Countess sang alto, the Count the bass part; Karoline, the younger daughter, whose voice was weak, was an excellent piano accompanist. According to a report by Karl von Schönstein, one of the best of the dilettante amateur singers of the period and an outstanding interpreter of Schubert’s Lieder, who was also present at that time, the Countess asked Schubert, at a communal breakfast, to set to music Fouqué’s poem, of which she was especially fond. “Schubert read it, smiled to himself, as he was usually in the habit of doing when something appealed to him, and took himself off immediately to start work on it.” Later on that same evening, with the help of Schönstein singing tenor, the family tried out the completed quartet with “…joy and delight at the master’s marvellous work”. It is interesting in the structure of the work that the tutti sections of the beginning and the end are contrasted with the soloistic sections in the middle, which allow all four voices involved to have their say. Clearly Schubert even succeeded in matching the contents and musical structure of these solo passages to the individual singers. The soprano solo ‘Du siehst in dies mein Herze’ was written for the wonderful soprano voice of the elder daughter; ‘Mit mir in eins zusammen schlingt hier sich Kindleins Huld’ suited the maternal qualities of the Countess’s alto voice; the heroic battle-readiness and welfare for ‘Weib und Kind am Herd’ (“woman and child at home”) goes to the pater familias and the loving relationship is taken on by the tenor-baritone Schönstein who was then 27 years old. The work assumed such strong family and private characteristics that the manuscript from the Esterházy family “…was produced by Schubert on condition that it was not to be published—either by a publisher or by other performers.” Der Tanz, D. 826 [track 13] (The Dance), too seems to go back to a specific occasion; but whether the song was actually commissioned by a devoted father as an educational appeal for moderation to his dance-mad daughter, as was assumed to be the case, now seems questionable. It is more likely that it was composed, as was the substantial Italian cantata Al par del ruscelletto, D. 936, to celebrate the recovery from a serious illness of Irene Kiesewetter von Wiesenbrunn. She was the daughter of an Aulic Councillor, a gifted pianist and Lieder accompanist and a member of Schubert’s circle of friends; in the first half of the nineteenth century she was one of the most eminent personalities in the cultural life of Vienna. Unlike the aforementioned magnificent cantata (for male-voice quartet, four-part mixed choir and piano duet accompaniment)

Der Tanz is more modest in its scope and style, yet it is more personal, more direct in its attention to what is being sung about, joyful and with the exhilarating enthusiasm of great happiness.


Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version: David Stevens


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