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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 16 - Goethe, Vol. 3
The Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition presents all Schubert’s Lieder, over 700 songs, grouped according to the poets who inspired him. Thanks to Bärenreiter’s Neue Schubert-Ausgabe, which uses primary sources, the performers have been able to benefit from the most recent research of the editorial team. The third volume devoted to settings of poems by Goethe includes the best known song of all, Erlkönig. These songs for male voice range from 1814 to the 1820s, some in Goethe’s preferred strophic form, others through-composed.
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 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)
Songs for male voice to texts by Goethe
A small step for the man and musician, but a great step for music-lovers would be a possible view of Schubert’s setting of Erlkönig, D328, probably written in October 1815, both from the point of view of the composer’s own life and that of the history of music. As an inspired ‘small step’, Josef von Spaun later related: ‘We found Schubert full of enthusiasm, reading the Erlkönig out aloud from the book. He often walked up and down with the book, suddenly sat down, and in the shortest time, as quickly as one can just write, there was the glorious ballad on paper’. Nevertheless if one consults the work of researchers in Schubert studies as to how carefully the motifs, tonalities and rhythms of the four characters of the mini-drama, the narrator, father, child and Erl King, are arranged, and how their conflict is structured musically, one can hardly believe that such a compelling work could have been written down in this way. Nevertheless there are, in addition to the version that was published in 1821, three earlier versions. Schubert reworked the song on several occasions. The changes are also small steps that make up one great step. First in the last version a tempestuous forte is stipulated from the beginning, the triplets of the piano accompaniment are hammered out with both hands in the last verse (thus greatly strengthening the revolutionary independence of the piano part in Schubert). The piano inserts after the break in rhythm in the final recitative, ‘in seinen Armen das Kind’ (in his arms the child) a delay, as though as long as possible to postpone the terrible words ‘war tot’ (was dead).
The work was regarded as a great achievement by Schubert’s contemporaries, and is described by Christopher Gibbs as the beginning of Schubert’s public career, so that he was often spoken of as the ‘Erlkönig composer’. Schubert himself in 1821 chose this song as his Opus 1, at a time when he had already written some five hundred songs. His stepping out onto the public stage was a ride out in the wild gallop of death of a romantic, anti-enlightenment, folk-style poem from Goethe’s Sturm und Drang period (1782), no beguiling light-weight little song – the forbiddingly difficult piano accompaniment was pronounced unmarketable by the first publishers that Schubert approached – a ballad that he had not treated at all in the form of the genre (as the ‘true ballad-composer’ Carl Loewe would do at the same period), but as a ‘tragedy’ in which ‘the word is actually mortal’ (A. Feil), a song that represents death not only as a threat bringing fear and terror, but also as a temptation promising fulfilment and happiness. While some later accused Schubert of having given Erlkönig melodies that were much too yearningly sweet (Max Friedländer in 1889 still thought that Schubert had ‘made of the German elfin-haunted forest a fragrant orange-grove and dressed up the Nordic ghostly spirit in the attractive garb of seductive sensuality’), others were fascinated by this music of romantic longing for death. On his death-bed Jean Paul was moved by the Erlking’s ‘Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir’ (Dear child, come, go with me), since the ‘mysterious, secret, promised happiness that sounds through the voice and the accompaniment lured him too with magic power to an enlightened, finer existence’, as Jean Paul’s nephew related.
A bold great step forward, Schubert’s Opus 1, and also a step beyond Goethe. In 1830 Goethe admitted, after a performance of the song by the singer Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient, that he had ‘heard this composition once before, when it said nothing to me, but so performed it conveyed altogether a clear picture’. ‘Said nothing to him’, but earlier he had spoken of ‘all so-called through-composing of songs … through which the general lyrical character is destroyed and a false interest in detail is demanded and aroused’. Yet Schubert had for a long time not always used the method of ‘through-composition’ in setting poems in strophic form. In the collection of songs that Schubert’s friends sent to Goethe in 1816 (and that were returned without comment) there were, together with the revolutionary Erlkönig, also quite a few traditionally strophic songs, as for example Jägers Abendlied (D215) (Huntsman’s Serenade) from Goethe’s earlier group of poems, Verse an Lida (for Charlotte Stein). The first version of June 1815 had two verses of the poem combined in one and the second part accompanied by continuing triplets. In the second version of 1816 (D368) (with the direction ‘very slow, gently’) Schubert decided on a simple strophic form, but in the unusual key of D flat major and with a clear division in the middle of each strophe, harmonically through the use of a dominant half close, formally through the variation of the accompaniment figuration, which switches from chromatic interpolations to repeated semiquavers.
This song appeared later as Opus 3 together with the setting of a poem similarly designated in the text as Lied. Schäfers Klagelied, (D121), (Shepherd’s Lament), contains, however, at least a reminiscence of strophic form settings, as well as a reference to folk-song. Goethe’s six verses are in fact closely cross-related to each other, the first corresponding to the sixth and the second to the fifth, while the third and fourth are ‘through-composed’ in the remote key of C flat major, with the fortissimo interruption and recitative stammering resignation, ‘doch alles ist leider ein Traum’ (yet all, alas, is a dream). It emerges as a pyramidally constructed miniature drama that from the pattern of a (seemingly) innocent shepherd’s song makes a ‘pastoral tragedy’ composed with the highest sensitivity.
Schubert is no early Wagnerian, bound to ‘through-compose’ as a principle. Throughout he also produces simple song settings, when Goethe’s texts are suited to this, as in some strophic songs written up to 1817. Three of them are found in a second collection sent to Goethe and were a positive reaction to the first. The Nachtgesang (D119), (Song of the Night), of November 1814 has a melodic range of only a fifth (which incidentally never reaches the key-note of A flat), just as Goethe’s five-verse poem is content with two rhyming syllables. From Goethe’s plan for the continuation of Die Zauberflöte comes the text of a proposed duet between Papageno and Papagena, the little market song Wer kauft Liebesgötter? (D261), (Who buys love-gods?). The Tischlied (D234), (Drinking Song), also written in summer 1815 and with the direction found nowhere else in Schubert, Guter Laune (Good humour), makes of Goethe’s paraphrase of the goliard song Mihi est propositum in taberna mori (It is suggested I die in the tavern) a simple C major drinking song. Two years later, too, Schubert was not above writing two simple strophic songs. In the ten bars of Der Goldschmiedsgesell (D560), (The Goldsmith’s Apprentice), the poetic charm of which lies principally in the seven different words that rhyme with ‘Mädchen’ (girl), the singing part must cope with an unusually coloratura-type melodic line. In Liebhaber in allen Gestalten (D558), (A Lover in All Shapes), the break in the continuous semiquavers may stand out, leaving the singer alone for a surprising bar with the repetition of the opening phrase of each verse, ‘ich wöllt’ich wär’…’ (I would I were …).
Goethe’s question on Gretchen, whether to write a song as a strophic song or have it through-composed, does not arise with the poetic patterns that, with their few lines, do not indicate strophic division. Such, for example, is the nine-line Erster Verlust (D226), (First Loss), which Schubert set in 1815. With the direction ‘very slow, melancholy’ the song, with its chromatic returns, diminished chords and tense melodic arches, forms a concentrated mood-picture of the resignation, from which Schubert, almost ten years later, would quote in a letter to his friend Schober: ‘Who brings back only one hour of that sweet time!’ Similarly with the direction ‘Wehmütig’ (melancholy) and equally resigned in mood is Goethe’s earlier eight-line Am Flusse (By the Stream), which Schubert first tackled in the same year (D160), but set once again in 1822 (D766). Whether, as Fischer-Dieskau says, the first composition cannot really be compared with the second, we may decide for ourselves. The first version, in D minor, increases in tension and is dramatic in conception, the second, in D major, with its gently flowing quaver accompaniment, moves to pianissimo with the quiet and inexorable flow of the stream and the passing of time. The six-line poem Hoffnung (Hope) from Goethe’s Natur- und Weltanschauungs-Lyrik of his Weimar years belongs to this group of text miniatures. Schubert in 1816 composed for it a gently marching hymn (D295).
For the four verses of Trost in Tränen (D120), (Comfort in Tears), written in 1814 on the same day as the Nachtgesang (Night Song), Schubert used a varied strophic form, with alternating question and answer, joy and sadness, represented in the major and the minor, in which, however, the boundaries are also blurred. Both minor-key verses are intensified through a turbulent accompaniment and melodic line and end with a surprising turn to the major – since everything is not so serious, ‘die Tränen fließen gar so süß’ (the tears flow so sweetly)… An expanded strophic form is found in Geheimes (719) (A Secret), written in March 1821. Here Schubert sets the middle of the three verses, in which the secret is revealed, differently from the beginning and the end, making an A-B-A form. Fischer-Dieskau is enthusiastic about the ‘unique interpretation of the text’ of this poem from Goethe’s Buch der Liebe in the West-Östlichen Divan: ‘As if in whispers, the melody line of the piano is lightly broken up through pauses, shortly before the climax, taken back instead into a pianissimo, as though too much might be said’. In ABABA form, on the other hand, the cheerful Der Musensohn (D764) (The Son of the Muses) dashes past the listener. Urged on by a constant leaping, stamping 6/8 accompaniment, it pipes out a little song from Goethe’s so-called classical period: Goethe’s mature vision of an ‘artistic creation without demonic depths and without inner threat’ (E. Trunz) – in contrast to the pathos-ridden Sturm und Drang of his youth – finds here an exciting livelier musical form. The transitionless insertions in the second and fourth verses, pianissimo and in the distant key of B natural (amid the initial retention of the same melodic figure, like a false repetition of the verse) forms in each a reflective interlude, with no break. Only at the end, when there is mention of a previously unnamed ‘you’ in whose ‘bosom’ the son of the Muses will rest, is a short ritardando bar prescribed.
Actually only eight of the settings of Goethe included here and drawn from all periods are ‘through-composed’. In December 1814 Schubert composed a ‘lyrical scene’ from the eight-verse poem Sehnsucht (D123) (Longing). This begins with a recitative and the song itself is interrupted in a further three places by recitative. Each scene (the flight of the raven, the singing bird, the approaching night, the twinkling star) are musically depicted. The ballad of Der Sänger (D149) (The Singer), which first appeared as part of Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister, where it is sung by the mysterious Harper, was also set by Loewe, Schumann and Wolf. The story of the artist who is acknowledged by society, but will not let himself be monopolized by it, in Schubert’s setting of 1815 becomes a miniature rococo opera, with an old-fashioned prelude presenting the leading motif, recitatives, arias, entr’actes, with the final departure of the old man, who bids his final farewell to his audience once more, softly and in a change of Goethe’s text.
In his setting of the poem Auf dem See (D543) (On the Lake), written by Goethe in 1775 on the occasion of a journey to Lake Zurich, Schubert also offers the listener repeated lines different from Goethe. The middle verse, the reflections of the poet himself, begins in the minor and is clearly cut off by a general pause. The final contemplative part changes from 6/8 to 2/4 and involves also variation of rhythm and general mood.
In the same period in March 1817 Schubert attempted Goethe’s great hymn to the Sturm und Drang period (winter 1772-73), Mahomets Gesang (D549) (Song for Mahomet), which evokes a “symbolic original scene under the ‘oriental sky’” and includes the “image of the flowing stream as a metaphor of the course of human life and a civilising process” (I. Mülder-Bach). Schubert’s pianistically demanding continuous semiquaver triplet accompaniment ‘snakes’ its way onward in passing notes and then expands into broken chords as the stream swells. Schubert completed this fragmentarily preserved first version, while the second (qv. Goethe Songs, Vol.1, Naxos 8.554665) remains unfinished. In April 1821 Schubert left another Goethe setting unfinished, the ballad Johanna Sebus (D728), a ‘simple, powerful, folk-style, memorial poem’ (E. Trunz), that was to celebrate the self-sacrificing courage shown in a flood disaster by a seventeen-year-old girl, who paid for it with her life. Schubert’s quickly surging and dying semiquaver octaves in the piano give a vivid description of the catastrophe, but after a third of the text, at the crucial decision of the heroine, emphasized in unison, ‘Sie sollen müssen gerettet sein’ (They must and they shall be saved), the score breaks off.
A quite different note is struck in three love-songs from Schubert’s later Goethe period (1821-22). Schubert set Versunken (D715) (Lost), also from the West-Östlicher Divan, with a perpetuum mobile in the piano, but here no one is drowned, only a young man, oblivious of all around him, loses himself running his fingers through the hair of his beloved. Schubert’s music appears similarly bewitched. The running semiquaver semitones swirl about the beginning of each broken chord, while the accompanying harmonies stray into the darker area of the mediant. A very restrained, simple accompaniment of great harmonic daring – above all in the great build-up before the central poetic and lyrical declaration: ‘dich rufen alle meine Lieder’ (all my songs call out to you) – characterizes An die Entfernte (D765) (To the Distant Beloved), a model for ‘how separation can be expressed by musical means’, since Schubert, with his text deviating in places from Goethe, ‘[forces] the poet, as it were, into the past, in the consciousness of an inevitable loss’ (A. Gerhard). Quite different again is Goethe’s youthful and passionate Willkommen und Abschied (D767) (Welcome and Farewell) from his student days in Strasbourg and love-affair in Sesenheim. In Schubert’s representation of a man who loves and is loved on horseback rhythmically yet another rider through ‘night and wind’ is heard, yet the ‘hundert schwarzen Augen’ (hundred black eyes) and the ‘tausend Ungeheuer’ (thousand monsters) of the night can in no way put off a man fervently in love. The last word is ‘Glück’ (happiness) – and a shining C major.
English version by Keith Anderson
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