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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 15 - Friends, Vol. 2
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, and Heine. 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 (New Schubert Edition), Tübingen, which uses primary sources, the performers have been able to benefit from the most recent research of the editorial team. In this second volume devoted to the poems of Schubert’s friends, the texts are much more than sentimental melodrama for they convey coded meanings about the real conditions of life, while the composer’s settings revolve around such themes as hope and disappointment, Utopia and disillusionment, religion and loss of faith.
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 2005. 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)
Settings of poems by Schubert’s friends, Vol. 2
The short period of Schubert’s life was marked by revolutionary political and social events of fundamental importance. The ideals of the French Revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity, had established themselves in people’s minds. Neither the radicalisation and perversion of the events in France itself (the bloodthirsty Terror of Robespierre, and later the coronation of Napoleon as Emperor), nor the war that followed until Napoleon’s Russian campaign, could alter that. Rather it seemed to pave the way for a turn for the better. Thousands enthusiastically volunteered to take part in the wars of liberation against the French occupation, among them many artists. The defeat of Napoleon in the battle of the nations at Leipzig in 1813 and the entry of the allied forces of Russia, Prussia and Austria into Paris were celebrated as liberation from tyranny and foreign domination. The realisation of democratic ideals seemed possible.
The Congress of Vienna (1814/15) soon brought these hopes to nothing. The creation of a real democratic nation state was prevented in the newly formed German League to which Austria belonged; conservative political powers had firm control and put in place the structures of an authoritarian state. The Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 against political and intellectual freedom brought about a climate of repression and a police state.
It was in this period of tension between hope and disillusionment that German lyric poetry developed between 1800 and 1830, and knowledge of its historical background reveals it, naturally not exclusively, as also a reaction to current events and an expression of the mood of the time. This is also reflected in the poems by Schubert’s friends. For the reader today the coded meanings are not easily recognised, yet they include deliberate commentary on the real conditions of life. In nature pictures and mythological material these express literally ‘through flowers’ what dare not be said openly. This poetry did not spring from dilettante enthusiasm, and we do well today, if we read of wilting flowers or rushing streams, not to suspect the writer of harmless sentimentality, but rather to ask ourselves what other meaning there could be. The poem Die Krähe (The Crow), for example, from Winterreise (Winter Journey) has a hidden meaning if we know that Krähe in Austrian is a generally known synonym for a police informer.
Naturally it is a matter of one among many meanings. Poetry distils individual and social experiences of life and contains a multitude of possible meanings. With different individual biographies too, however, we are aware of the mood of Schubert’s friends, to be gleaned directly from their correspondence. Probably there was in their heart of hearts an inner turmoil, polarities that seemed to be elevated by earlier generations into a higher harmony were now experienced as incompatible opposites, and this experience has a definite contemporary historical background.
The settings included here, therefore, revolve around the themes of hope and disappointment, Utopia and disillusionment, engagement and withdrawal, religiousness and loss of faith. In all their diversity their subjects have this in common.
The two flower ballads Viola, D786, (Violet) and Vergissmeinnicht, D792, (Forget-me-not) by Franz von Schober, one of Schubert’s closest friends, treat the motif of the loyal but disappointed (flower-)bride, who finds peace only in death or in resignation and withdrawal. The nature symbolism involved reveals a fundamental spiritual loss: nature is no longer a harmonic cycle but a series of tragic events, the God-given ‘good’ world order no longer exists. At the same time the flower-ballads hold contemporary metaphors: the violet that has ventured out too early in spring and died is easily identifiable as an allegory of freedom. The forget-me-not that grew too late, ending in inwardness and day-dreams may symbolize people of the Biedermeier period, retreating in disappointment from their great hopes into a limited private idyll. That these texts were much more than sentimental melodrama for Schubert is shown by his music, from the very start. In Viola a simple almost urgent bell motif serves as a refrain for the whole extended composition, rich in colour and variety. The constantly returning, always newly highlighted and finally dying theme tells of departure and failure. Vergissmeinnicht is musically and thematically less concise, harmonically more daring, more extreme in the contrast between lyrically lingering and dramatically forward-pressing passages. A long, painfully and deeply felt passage, Strophe 13: Tränen sprechen ihren Schmerz nur aus (Tears express only their own pain) shows in key, pedal-point procedure and basic rhythmic pattern the chronological and emotional closeness of the ballad to the famous Unfinished Symphony. The often almost too long, insistent repetitions and variations of the central musical motif are signs of Schubert’s strong inner engagement with the text. Thus, for example, the long description of the sleeping forget-me-not, Da im weichen Samt des Mooses (There in the gentle velvet of the moss) is expressed in wonderfully tender and under the surface highly erotic music as if not enough could ever happen from it. The similarly inviting and menacing musical setting of the reflection of the flower in the water, the image of the mythological Narcissus, is evidence of the dilemma of Schubert and his friend. This concentration on the self sprang not from a narcissistic and exuberant love of self but was the expression of want and grief in the face of unfulfilled hopes, ideals and dreams.
However empty and hopeless their time may have seemed to them, they were not without consolation. Art, particularly music, was characterized as a consoler. Todesmusik, D758, (Death Music) and Trost im Liede, D546, (Consolation in Song), also by Schober, document as well a tendency towards withdrawal. In the second music is praised as a protection against des Unglücks Sturm (the storm of misfortune), in the first it functions as a comforter of the dying, that brings awareness of death in mystical enlightenment. In the poetry of Schubert’s friends music was described as a refuge from the grauen Stunden (grey hours) of reality, and Schubert always found in these ‘music about music’ pieces an individual, absolutely compelling musical interpretation.
How very inconsistent the melting-point of Schubert’s life was with his philosophy of living is seen in two songs that take on opposing positions: Bruchmann’s Schwestergruss, D762, (Sister’s Greeting) and Matthäus von Collin’s Wehmut, D772, (Melancholy). Bruchmann starts with his account of a nocturnal ghostly manifestation in a mood of religious and mystical ecstasy. The poem refers to the death of one of his sisters and Schubert probably set it for a Schubertiad in November 1822, in order to ‘dispel, as far as possible, the ever returning, sad memory of the blessed Sybilla’ (Moritz von Schwind to Schober). The nocturnal manifestation swings between the eerie and the consolatory and is set by Schubert in grandiose style. Collin in his poem, on the other hand, provides a memento mori that has no knowledge of the consolation promised by heaven. Here there appears the reverse of the glorification of death in Todesmusik and Schwestergruss, the horror vacui, fear in the face of nothingness. The final entschwindet und vergeht (disappears and passes away), succinct and final, without belief in crossing over into something better on the other side, is set by Schubert with music that is as consistent as it is inspired. A strange, simultaneously cheerful and sad linking of both poles is provided by Collin’s Nacht und Träume, D827, (Night and Dreams). The dreams that people enjoy in sleep, are destroyed at break of day, but the longing for them remains: Holde Träume, kehret wieder! (Sweet dreams, come back!) Therein is the unspoken question, whether there remains for men nothing but day-dreams. There is a radical answer to this in Im Dorfe (In the Village) from Winterreise: Ich bin zu Ende mit allen Träumen, was soll ich unter der Schläfern säumen (I am finished with all dreams, why should I tarry among the sleepers). The way that Schubert with the most economical means brings together into one reverie and profound sadness is unique. This theme touched him deeply. This was not the work of one doing a favour by setting the verses of friends who were amateur poets. They spoke the same language, his friends in words, he in music.
An ideological forerunner of the contrasting Schwestergruss and Wehmut is Auf einen Kirchhof, D151, (In a Churchyard). Here death is described as a natural event, like the setting of the sun. Like the sun the soul will rise again and be immortal. Schubert approaches the religious naivety of the poem with traditional techniques. The constant change between arioso and recitative and the final stretta are as anachronistic as they are appropriate to the positive belief in redemption of the poem. Two other song texts come from Franz von Bruchmann, whose life, as in the case of many of Schubert’s friends, reflects restlessness and turmoil. Born in 1798, the son of a well-to-do merchant, he trained for the law, and was very interested in the ancient world and philosophy, and broke away from Catholicism. He was friendly with Schubert and his circle, from whom he became estranged. He became a doctor of law, married and with the death of his wife one month after the birth of a son, underwent a profound personal crisis, returned to the church and entered the Redemptorist order. He was ordained priest and held an important position in the order. He died in 1867 in the monastery at Gars am Inn.
Im Haine, D738, (In the Wood) is a simple nature idyll, which ziehn von dannen alle Schmerzen (draws away all pain) and from which it is hoped to wipe out aller Qualen Spur (every trace of trouble). Here again is the harsh, inhospitable present, as a background foil to the idyll.
Am See, D746, (By the Lake) offers a picture of the lake, in which through the reflection of the sunlight so many stars seem to shine, as an allegory. The souls of men, ‘on the water’, seem reflected like heavenly ‘stars’. It is fascinating to compare with this the musically and textually very different setting of Goethe’s Auf dem See. The Goethe setting has a powerful freshness, immediate feeling, a new lively beginning after a short cloudy spell. The Bruchmann setting is one of deep absorption, uneventful contemplation, an imperceptible musical transition from picture to allegory. It would be difficult to find two songs on a similar subject that show more directly the difference of life experience between the classical and post-classical generation.
Leiden der Trennung, D509, (Sorrows of Parting) by Heinrich von Collin, brother of Matthäus, makes use of the image of the movement of water that always seeks out its way to the sea, the giver of life and place of peace, as a symbol for parting and return of those that belong together. It was written ‘in the house of Herr von Schober’, who was away for a long time.
The songs included here often convey the impression that the setting is not an addition to the existing text, but rather a conclusion, a joining together to bring a work to completion. That Schubert far excelled in inspiration his friends, who were almost all at the best semi-professional writers, but mostly amateur poets in middle-class employment, is no matter. Often his music reveals intellectual qualities that lay hidden behind technical clumsiness or grandiloquent language. The Gothic ballad sub-titled Romanze, Lieb Minna, D222, (Dear Minna), which would probably make people laugh if it were recited today, acquires through Schubert’s music its own morbid charm. The verse narrative of the vain waiting of the girl for her Wilhelm, who has gone to the war, has, moreover, a clear contemporary background in the wars of liberation against Napoleon.
Aus Diego Manazares: Ilmerine, D458, (From Diego Manazares: Ilmerine), also has the theme of the waiting beloved. With its concentrated musical strength it arouses curiosity about the unfortunately unwritten more extended setting of the text from a lost play by Franz von Schlechta.
Namenstagslied, D695, (Name-Day Song), is an occasional composition setting a poem by his friend Albert Stadler in honour of the father of Josefine (‘Pepi’) von Koller. She ‘sang and played the piano and undertook the soprano part in the performance of Schubert’s compositions’, Heinrich von Kreissle, the composer’s first biographer in 1865, tells us.
Der Knabe in der Wiege, D579, (The Baby in the Cradle), a poem by Anton Ottenwald, is far more than an occasional work. The seemingly simple yet harmonically complex lullaby may today seem to us perhaps sentimental and all too idyllic. It is true, though, that Schubert’s beloved mother bore fourteen children, of which only five reached adulthood, and this rate of survival was the rule rather than the exception. It is easy to understand, therefore, how the prevailing feeling that all is good, all will be good, came about. This is the expression of anxious hope, not of certainty.
‘… mit Kranichen ein strebender Gefährte zu wandern in ein milder Land’ (… with cranes a striving companion to wander to a kinder land) comes in one of the strongest poems of Johann Mayrhofer, the most important poet of Schubert’s circle. With the increasingly entrenched nature of hated external circumstances, about 1820, the feeling of the time shifted from rebellion to resignation, from revolt to awareness of the general sorrows of life and to private world-weariness. Hope for a better world was either put into question or transferred from this world to the next. From the seemingly unalterable conditions of the world they lived in, they turned to eternity.
Between and following these extremes, however, a form of poetry established itself that left to one side great philosophical ideas and political Utopias and limited itself to the description of the joys and sorrows of everyday life and little, private, inviolable isolated feelings of well-being. This is what today we somewhat disparagingly call Biedermeier. That it not only spread a smug feeling of satisfaction but also knew how to bring to the fore the quality of humour and of gentle irony, is witnessed by Franz von Schlechta’s poems Widerschein, D639, (Reflection) and Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen, D698, (Serenade of the Lady). The intellectual relationship with the paintings of Carl Spitzweg is clear. In fact Liebeslauschen was written after a lithograph by Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld. Schubert clearly took the greatest delight in setting these poems.
English version by Keith Anderson
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SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 15 - Friends, Vol. 2