About this Recording
8.572036 - SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 31 - Sturm und Drang Poets
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Franz Peter Schubert (1797–1828)
Settings of Poems of the ‘Sturm und Drang’ Period

 

The literary-historically important period of Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) lasted barely twenty years, from 1767, the year in which Herder’s Fragmenten über die neuere deutsche Literatur (Fragments on Recent German Literature) appeared, until about 1785. The period did not place ‘genius’ as the prevailing creative spirit of a set of handed-down rules at the centre of an artistic view, and it opposed the rationality of the Enlightenment, while it confronted reason with strong feelings, the heart, instinct and the unconscious. Nature did not become, as with the philosophers of the Enlightenment, scientifically demythologized, but idolized, as transformed by the more natural and better state of the world. To the educated man of culture the simple child of nature was preferable; the poet’s sympathies were with an innocent childlike quality, the ‘simple’ nature, craftsmanship, rural populations and the naïve maiden, but they were also under the spell of Homer’s mythical heroes, the old Teutons, legendary heroes and powerful characters. Lyric poetry was transformed from a purely literary form into empirical lyrics, in which the poet knowingly assimilated the experiences of his own life.

Yet, from a literary point of view, the most significant medium of Sturm und Drang was drama, which broke away from French models and perceived the ideal of the art of theatre in Shakespeare’s dramatic world. The two principal works of the Sturm und Drang movement, Goethe’s Götz von Berlichingen (Götz of Berlichingen) and Schiller’s Räuber (The Robbers), are among the most famous German-language dramas even today. But Shakespeare was not the only influence from the Anglo-Saxon world. The Poems of Ossian by the Scottish poet James Macpherson, with their allegedly ancient gloomy tales of warriors, ghosts and people unlucky in love, were hugely popular in German-speaking countries and were of literary influence. Schubert’s settings of these texts can be heard in Schubert: European Poets Vols.1 and 2 [Naxos 8.554795 and 8.557026–27] but are supplemented here by a further setting of a fragment from the Lorma text, an excerpt from Ossian/Macpherson’s verse epic Die Schlacht von Lora (The Battle of Lora).

The strong connection between the Anglo-Saxon and German-language literature of the period can be seen in An Old Scottish Ballad (Edward, D. 923) [1]. It appeared in 1765 in the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, a collection of poems and folk-songs by the English antiquarian, Bishop Thomas Percy. The bloodthirsty ballad was well-known in Germany in the translation by Johann Gottfried Herder who, in his famous collection of folk-songs Stimmen der Völker in Liedern (The Voices of the Peoples in Songs), was active in the same sphere as Percy. Schubert’s setting has come down to us in three different versions, of which the second, performed here, differs in only a few superficial details from the ‘definitive’ third version (which can be heard on Schubert: European Poets Vol. 2—8.557026–27). But this is a good example of how much slight alterations can change the overall musical and dramatic impression of a work. The third version develops purposefully in a great arch towards the inevitability of the climax of the final verse which Edward and his mother sing together. In the second version, which is heard here, the flow of the dialogue is for ever being interrupted by pauses which seem to hold up the development of the song and which bestow upon the dialogue between mother and son something tentative, hesitant, procrastinating and underhand. So the whole catastrophe is slowly revealed, creeping along in a stately fashion, culminating in the hate-filled line ‘denn ihr, ihr rietet’s mir’ (“for such counsels you gave to me”). This maintaining of the antiphonal singing right up to the end underlines in addition the unbridgeable gap between the pair, which allows of no common ground of any kind.

The above-mentioned Lorma fragment, D. 327, [14] is, like Edward, of a similarly gloomy, and melancholy atmosphere. Surprisingly, the fragmentary form of the work in which the situation of the young girl is described, a young girl who awaits the return of her lover, her vacillation between hope and despair, her despondent manner, suits the uncertain ending of the scene.

Two poets stand at the centre of this particular repertoire, with seven and four settings respectively. The lyrics of Johann Georg Jacobi (1740–1814) are often classed as belonging to the often-criticized, superficially respected, Anacreontic poetry. As a publisher Jacobi was responsible above all for the publication of some seminal poems of the Sturm und Drang movement, for instance Goethe’s poems written in his Strasbourg and Frankfurt years. The brilliant Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739–1791) was virtually at the heart of the movement and, with his lifestyle and life’s work, was one of the most striking personalities of the eighteenth century. He will remain best known to posterity for only a few poems, but among them is one which became world-famous through Schubert’s setting—Die Forelle (The Trout).

With one exception (Lied des Orpheus/Orpheus’s Song), Schubert’s Jacobi settings are all simple strophic songs and date from August and September 1816. This concentrated preoccupation in time with individual poets was something which Schubert was often in the habit of doing. It can be explained first of all by practical circumstances—that poetry collections, almanacs and editions of work by individual poets were constantly in circulation among his group of friends. When these lyrics appealed to Schubert the song-composer, then more often than not he chose to set several of them to music. So he succeeded in immersing himself in the individual scenes, in the linguistic patterns and expressive content of the respective poets, and appropriated for himself the lyrics in his work and, as it were, assimilated them musically. For that reason many of these concurrent settings are stylistically unified. They could almost form self-contained groups of songs or even be promoted to become disguised song cycles. So it is with the strophic Jacobi-Lieder: their musical structure is simple throughout, in a certain sense elementary and direct, coming close to folk-song, yet blessed with many hidden compositional refinements.

In der Mitternacht, D. 464 (At Midnight) [2] opens with an impressive, gloomy passage given out in unison by the singer and the pianist; in the second bar, at the words ‘deckt das Tal’ (“shrouds the valley”) the piano accompaniment opens out into a chordal section which the singer now accompanies further, at the words ‘bei des Mondes falbem Strahl’ (“by the moon’s half-light”). At the words ‘Winde flüstern’ (“winds whisper”) the pianist’s right hand changes into a soft semiquaver movement, while the left hand, in low octaves, suggests darkness and foreboding and, at the words ‘in des Wächters Nachtgesang’ (“the night-watchman’s song”) turns into a marching crotchet section. All of this is simple, even unobtrusive, yet is musically extremely compelling, at once individually characterized and flexible enough to apply also to the following verses.

In Trauer der Liebe, D. 465 (Love’s Lament) [3] the extremely arioso-like ‘sweet’ melodic shape of the vocal part is very much in the foreground; Schubert avoids gloomy minor-key sadness but dwells more on a light, idyllic atmosphere in which the protagonist sings with childlike innocence of her yearning for ‘liebend’ Herz’ (“a loving heart”). An almost hidden duet between the lower and upper parts of the piano and the voice gives a symbolic form in the music to the girl’s demand for togetherness.

With its realistic, simple, lyrical tone and its musical impetuosity An Chloen, D. 462 (To Chloe) [4] comes perhaps closest to the gestures of Sturm und Drang. Hochzeit-Lied, D. 463 (Wedding Song) [5] is similarly elemental and ‘robust’ in its direct address to a pair of newly-weds. It offers at the same time a eulogy and a lecture on the unconditionality and steadfastness of love and marriage.

Am Tage Aller Seelen, D. 343 (Litany for All Souls’ Day) [6] is the best-known of the Jacobi settings. The moving and insistent effect of the song is based on its ideal balance between its exquisite melodic construction and its dynamic harmony which alternates between diatonic and chromatic: a gentle continuously-flowing semiquaver movement in the pianist’s right hand creates unity and the verses are linked by an interlude of noble beauty.

Die Perle, D. 466 (The Pearl) [7] tells of a man’s unceasing, yet unsuccessful search for his ‘pearl’; this search for the pearl is compared with the lyrical ‘I’ of ‘Lieb’ im treuen Herzen’ (“love in a true heart”). The unbroken march-like movement of the arching melody and the expressive harmonies lend to the song a peculiarly intense painful expression.

Lied des Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging, D. 474 (Orpheus’s Song as He Descended into the Underworld) [9] is written in the style of an opera seria aria. Orpheus’s initial imprecation and spell on the fire of hell is set in a highly-dramatic recitative, his address to the ‘winselnden Bewohner dieser Nächte’ (“whimpering inhabitants of this night”) rings out in a touching bel canto arioso. When he becomes aware of the effect of his appeal (‘Oh ich sehe Tränen fließen!’/“Oh, I see tears flowing!”), the music moves into a big accelerando and ends in an effective virtuoso stretto in which Orpheus sings of the hoped-for salvation of all the ‘Schatten’ (“shadows”) in the ‘selige Filden’ (“Elysian fields”) of earth.

In many respects Hagars Klage, D. 5 (Hagar’s Lament) [10] is significant in Schubert’s development as a Lieder composer. This extremely extensive work, which last fifteen minutes, was considered by Schubert’s friends to have been his earliest song composition, written at the age of fourteen, when he was a pupil at the Konvikt (Seminary) school. This is not quite correct: there are earlier fragmentary song compositions, but Hagars Klage is at least the earliest completely preserved song.

The second significant aspect sheds light on a story from his friend Joseph von Spaun. He had shown Schubert “several bundles of songs by Zumsteeg”. “He (Schubert) had then attempted a few songs, for example Hagars Klage. He wanted to set Zumsteeg’s song, which he liked very much, in other ways.” Now at this time Zumsteeg was the big and important reformer of the song. Unlike his ‘colleagues’ of the North German and Berlin Lieder Schools Zumsteeg was not satisfied with writing simple, sometimes conventional and modest strophic songs, but composed larger ballad-like forms, in which the music was not the obsequious servant of the text and in which it responded to the atmosphere, the inner expressive content, the dramatic tendencies of the poem and gave it expression; and neither did he shy away from using onomatopoeic effects.

This was truly innovative for the Romantic development of the art-song and extremely inspirational for the young Schubert. The fact that he had sufficient confidence in his own ability and decided to set the same text as Zumsteeg, whom Schubert admired, anew and ‘in another way’, is an indication of the great degree of self-trust and enormous ambition of the young man. A comparison of the two works, which are both on this recording [8][10], shows that his self-confidence was justified.

Clemens August Schücking’s poem refers to an event from the First Book of Moses (Genesis xxi). Since Abraham and his wife Sarah remained childless, Abraham, at Sarah’s request, fathered a child with the Egyptian slave Hagar. As was the custom in those days, the child was to be regarded as the offspring of the infertile wife. However Sarah became jealous and banished the pregnant slave. Hagar fled into the desert where an angel appeared to her and asked her to return and succumb once again to Sarah. Hagar would bear a son, whom she would call Ishmael and he would become the progenitor of many peoples. She did actually return and brought Ishmael into the world. Fourteen years later Sarah herself became pregnant and bore Isaac. Once again Hagar was driven out into the desert with her son. It is at this point in the story that Schücking’s poem begins and it ends in this hopeless situation. Hagar’s rescue through the appearance of the angel, who shows her the burning bushes, is no longer the poem’s central theme.

It is instructive to compare the works by Zumsteeg and Schubert, above all for the fact that Schubert writes no totally new music, but he follows his model in compositional details such as form, melodic structure and harmony, yet somehow he constantly renews the compositional material. As an example, where Zumsteeg has a regular eight-bar introduction, Schubert has a highly original seven-bar shape into which the voice virtually breaks in in the seventh bar, without allowing the introduction to reach a cadential conclusion, a device which strengthens the structure immensely with its dramatic inner tension and musical ‘flow’. Both compositions consist of a sequence of aria-like sections of strongly-contrasting character; in Zumsteeg however these are relatively balanced in respect of their length whereas in Schubert the individual parts turn out to be richly varied—through textual repetitions, reversals and even changes—and are sometimes subdivided by short recitative-like insertions.

In comparison with Zumsteeg’s in a certain sense more conventional setting, everything in Schubert seems more powerful, more extreme, more heightened, more arbitrary and more eccentric, in order to intensify the expression. His aim was obvious—to bring out more strongly than in Zumsteeg’s model the dramatic potential of the poem. He pulls off an altogether stunning dramaturgical trick: the invocation to Jehovah in the eleventh verse sets up, with a daring modulation and a completely ‘rapt’ tonality, an incredibly soft, despairing and insistent kind of centre of the song, which attaches weight to the prevailing sequences of arioso sections and makes them easily comprehensible, and this occurs at the place of the architecturally so important ‘golden section’. An accident, intuition? So at the same time Schubert appropriates Zumsteeg’s compositional method and elevates it, using it as a propellant to depart for new regions in Lieder composition. Wenzel Ruzicka, court organist and Schubert’s music teacher at the Konvikt School, showed Hagars Klage to Salieri, who recognised Schubert’s huge talent immediately and offered to teach the young man for nothing; in the wake of Schubert’s enormous musical progress Ruzicka realised that he was no longer in a position to teach him anything.

Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart’s poem An mein Klavier, D. 342 (To My Piano) [11] deals with an extremely popular theme of the eighteenth century: unlike the harpsichord, the recently-invented piano allowed the player to modify the sound-quality of the notes, to communicate ‘sensitivity’, as it were, through the sound of the piano. This revolutionary innovation was celebrated in countless poetic glorifications of the new instrument. Schubert composes in an agreeably simple, yet completely sensitive style.

Grablied auf einen Soldaten, D. 454 (Epitaph for a Soldier) [12] is a gloomy, calm funeral march and funeral song which, after a simple unison beginning and chorale-like continuation, broadens out in the second half of each verse into a more harmonically complex, virtually polyphonic sentence and ends in a remarkable six-bar interlude and corresponding postlude.

Lilla an die Morgenröte, D. 273 (Lilla to the Dawn) [13] and Lied, D. 284 (Song) [15] , both to texts by unknown authors, are simple strophic songs; the first is solemn and the second is in a boldly amorous style.

An den Tod, D. 518 (To Death) [16], again by Schubart (1739–91), was first published in 1824, but interestingly without the second verse. The publisher presumably left it out for fear of the censorship authorities or even perhaps acted on their orders. For it was well known which captive this poem was about: Schubart’s fate as a prisoner was current and topical even in Schubert’s time (see the commentaries on Die Forelle/The Trout). Schubert’s setting is notable above all for its use of harmony: within only 24 bars it roams through almost all the major keys of the circle of fifths. With this restless wandering the harmony becomes more or less symbolic of the protagonist’s desperate yearning for death.

Die Forelle, D. 550 (The Trout) [17] has come down to us in five different versions, of which only the last has a piano introduction. The fourth version, recorded here, begins immediately with the entry of the voice, untroubled and carefree. The wonderful lightness of Schubert’s inspired music, which has made the song so enormously popular, is counteracted though by the hidden biographical context of Schubart’s poem. Following uncompleted medical studies Schubart was a supply teacher and priest, a schoolmaster, then organist and music director in Ludwigsburg. Praised by Goethe as “an incomparable piano virtuoso of the age”, he was an uncompromising free spirit and unrestrained roué, for whom, by his own confession, “wine and women” were his “Scylla and Charybdis” who “sucked me down in turn into their whirlpools”. After making some sharp-tongued remarks about the clergy Schubart was expelled from Württemberg by Duke Karl Eugen (under whose authoritarian régime Schiller also had to suffer). After many years living the life of a vagabond he fetched up in Augsburg and founded a journal, Die Deutsche Chronik (The German Chronicle), which was no less critical of the radical absolutist tyrants and despotic rule and thus was widely circulated. The Duke therefore, decided ‘to take care of’ Schubart and tricked him into returning to the sovereign territory of Württemberg, whereupon he was immediately seized and taken to the fortress of Hohenasperg. There he was imprisoned for ten years without trial or sentence. It was during this period that Schubart wrote the poem Die Forelle (The Trout), so it is clear what story he is actually relating here. What is just as obvious is that Schubert and his friends and contemporaries knew the background to the Trout poem and that they found in it parallels of the situation in their own lives in their reaction to the restoration of the age of Metternich.

This recording contains by no means all of Schubert’s songs to Sturm und Drang poems. Goethe’s Prometheus and Ganymed, Schiller’s Leichenfantasie and Amalia (from the drama Die Räuber/The Robbers) and countless other poems can be ascribed to this period. They appear on those recordings which bring together the many settings of these poets (Goethe Vol. 1 [8.554665], Vol. 2 [8.554666], Vol. 3 [8.554667] and Schiller Vol. 1 [8.554740], Vol. 2 [8.554741], Vols. 3–4 [8.557369-70]).

Ulrich Eisenlohr
English version by David Stevens

 

The sung texts and English translations can be found at www.naxos.com/libretti/572036.htm.


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