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ClassicsOnline Home » SCHUBERT, F.: Lied Edition 19 - Poets of Sensibility, Vols. 1 and 2
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828) Poets of Sensibility, Vols. 1 and 2
Empfindsamkeit: The Expression of Feeling in Late Eighteenth Century German Literature
The literary trend of Empfindsamkeit (the sensitive) made a decisive mark on human emotion and thought in the Enlightenment. The emancipation of the bourgeoisie and its new self-awareness led to an intensive involvement with the individual personality and to questions about the essence of self-identity. Answers to these questions, however, were sought not only in intellectual circles. Something surprising happened: in the period when reason and logic were at their highest, interest in the world of emotion began to increase more and more. From Russia to France, from England to Italy, people in the eighteenth century listened to their feelings and explored in soliloquy their own being. Empfindsamkeit, with its deeply grounded reflection of the self, would probably not have developed without the Enlightenment. The strong tendency to emotion was in the end to be attributed to the ‘cold rationalism’ of the Enlightenment, since it at the same time released longing for the warmth of feeling.
It was above all in England that the flourishing of the sentimental was clearly to be noticed. The new literary ideals were brought to life in Samuel Richardson’s moral and family novels, the idylls of James Thomson, the Night Thoughts of Edward Young, filled with melancholy and sadness, and the Ossian poems of James Macpherson. They released a flood of enthusiasm, quickly developed in Germany. The young Friedrich von Matthisson, for example, involved himself intensively with English literature and was fascinated particularly by Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. One work of English ‘sentimentality’ won particular importance in the German version of this literary trend. The word empfindsam was first used in 1757 by Victoria Gottsched, who, by the side of her famous husband Johann Christoph Gottsched, had become one of the most important translators and writers of the time. When in 1768 Johann Joachim Bode translated into German Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, his friend Gotthold Ephraim Lessing advised him to translate the word ‘sentimental’ with ‘empfindsam’. In this way the conception of Empfindsamkeit came to signify a literary period.
Together with the many plays and novels written in the period, poetry became the most important form of expression. With its concentration on the world of emotion and sentiment it corresponded to central human concerns - it was not the narrative that was in the foreground but feeling, which was released through a narrative. In soliloquy or in addressing a poetic ‘thou’ the poetic inner identity was revealed. It was drawn from the cult of soul and friendship of Pietism, which, as ‘practical Christianity of the heart’ (Gero von Wilpert), encouraged men of all circles of the population to an individual practice of their faith. People freed themselves from orthodox dogma and sought God in the subjective realities of their lives. Nature too was an important source of experience of the divine. In the sunset, the song of a bird or the rushing of the wind - not in church - people traced the omnipresence of God and felt themselves part of this creation. ‘Im Lenzhauch webt der Geist des Herrn! / Sieh! Auferstehung nah’ und fern, / ‘ Sieh! Jugendfülle, Schönheitsmeer, / Und Wonnetaumel ringsumher!’ (‘In the breath of spring weaves the Spirit of God! / See! Resurrection near and far, / See! Filled with youth, sea of beauty, / And rapture of delight all around!), Matthisson writes in his Naturgenuss (Enjoyment of Nature). This euphoria, however, is offset by the central themes of sorrow and melancholy, the loss of a loved one and the approach of death. Answers to these existential questions of life were always sought and found in faith.
Franz Schubert and the Poets Friedrich von Matthisson and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Many poets of the German Empfindsamkeit, who at the time were read with equal enthusiasm in aristocratic salons and in the rooms of the bourgeoisie, are today often only a subject for specialists in literature. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock is among the better known poets, but names such as those of Friedrich von Matthisson and Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten are much less familiar. These poets were well known to Schubert and even as a schoolboy he felt himself drawn to the poetry of Empfindsamkeit. All their themes, from enlightened pantheism to melancholy reminders of death, were also his, subjects with which he was involved throughout his life. The ‘poets of sensibility’ played the most important part above all in his early years as a composer, together with the classical poetry of Goethe and Schiller.
Settings of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock
Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock (1724-1803) studied theology and won his first reputation as a poet with the publication in 1748 of the first three songs of his biblical epic Der Messias (The Messiah). Throughout his life his religious and moral poems of experience were admired by, among others, Goethe and the poets of the Göttinger Hainbund. Klopstock spent almost twenty years of his life in Copenhagen, where the Danish King Friedrich V granted him a pension that allowed him to work without worrying on the completion of his Messias. In 1770 Klopstock returned to Germany and lived in Hamburg until his death. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many composers followed the expressed wish of the poet and set many of his works to music. With Schubert’s Klopstock settings this tradition finds its conclusion, with later generations of composers only sporadically devoting attention to his poems.
How wide-ranging the world of feeling of sentimental poetry and Schubert’s settings are can be seen strikingly in the powerful hymn Dem Unendlichen, D291, (To the Infinite One). From the first bars it is clear that here these are not the gentle and tender tones of the sentimental but that the passion of Klopstock’s praise of the Creator is successfully given full musical development. In ‘Wie erhebt sich das Herz, wenn es dich, / Unendlicher, denkt!’ (‘How the heart rises up when on you / the infinite it thinks!’) Schubert sets the first two stanzas as a recitative that through a thoroughly orchestral treatment of the piano part and an extended vocal line achieves dramatic dimensions. After the words ‘Herr Gott, den, dankend entflammt, kein Jubel genug besingt!’ (Lord God, for whom, thanking and inspired, no praise is enough!’) is an arioso that, after the verbal power of the recitative expresses the emotional side of praise of the Creator.
The poems Selma und Selmar, D286, and Furcht der Geliebten / An Cidli, D285, (Fears of the Beloved / To Cidli), both represent a feeling that had a very real background at the time. Travel abroad was a dangerous undertaking and anxiety was a constant companion of the waiting beloved. Selma und Selmar is a dialogue of simple elegiac beauty, which, through the identical patterns of verse and reply symbolizes a particularly deep inner relationship between the lovers. ‘Cidli’ was the pet name of Klopstock’s first wife Margareta (Meta) Moller, and gives the impression that the poet himself turns for comfort to his beloved. Schubert’s setting radiates a chorale-like calm that lends this personal consolation a religious depth. An Sie, D288, (To Her), Edone, D445, and Das Rosenband, D280, (The Rose Garland) are also songs that deal with moods of love. The little arioso Edone has a particular magic, hovering between the rapture of love and melancholy longing. The idyllic love scene in Das Rosenband almost a century later inspired Richard Strauss to a setting. Schubert brings the scene to life in his musical narrative. The vocal line is excited but syllabic (one syllable to a note) and allows the words scope for their lyrical individuality. Within this atmospheric narrative is the piano part, which, from the verse ‘Doch lispelt’ ich ihr leise zu …’ (‘I whispered gently to her …’) accompanies with mounting excitement the continued setting with new variations of the piano figuration and the bass line.
Klopstock dedicated his Vaterlandslied, D287, (Song of the Fatherland), to his second wife Johanna Elisabeth von Winthem ‘for singing’, and many composers followed this invitation by setting it. The patriotic ideas of the ‘German girl’ today give rise to astonishment, but then, at the time of the Napoleonic wars, represented to many an ideal. Schubert’s setting seems consciously to play with defects in composition: the individual phrases are too short for musical development and a five-bar rather rough postlude breaks the song’s proportions. Possibly Schubert wanted to see the patriotic text with a musical wink in the eye - it can well be imagined that his Vaterlandslied aroused amusement rather than patriotic enthusiasm at a Schubertiade. Any distance from the text is absent, however, in his setting of Hermann und Thusnelda, D322. Thusnelda receives her victorious husband, returning from battle with the Romans, with joyful triumph, while he mourns his fallen father. Schubert is carried away by the heroic pathos of the scene and sets it in a kind of operatic hymn. To be noticed in the poem as also in the setting is the abrupt break at Hermann’s words. The feelings of the mourner, expressed in his own words, provide a fine counterpoint to the apparently inconsiderate ecstasy of Thusnelda.
Die frühen Gräber, D290, (Early Graves) and Die Sommernacht, D289, (Summer Night) are closely related in theme and mood - a warm night, the light of the moon and a man who in painful sadness remembers his lost beloved. Die frühen Gräber is a strophic song of lament, Die Sommernacht is a deeply-felt recitative. Only once here do melody and accompaniment move into an onomatopoeic arioso and intensify the sensual moment of remembrance at the words ‘Wie umwehten uns der Duft und die Kühlung’ (‘As the fragrance and coolness wafted about us’). After the gentle music of these two songs sublimity and pathos in the praise of the Creator come to the fore in Die Gestirne, D444, (The Constellations). The repeating chordal structure in the piano part forms a weighty forward-leading foundation, over which the vocal part rises in celebration. Here is to be noted as particularly striking how different inner elements of strophic songs can be when attention is paid to the interpretation of fine nuances. Singer and pianist, for example, in the third verse, in contrast with the parallel places in the first two verses, treat ‘Das gebeindeckende Grab, das Gefild der Saat, Gott! Es erwachet, wer schläft!’ (The bonecovering grave, the fields of sowing, God! There wakes, who sleeps!’) at first in a mounting excitement in the piano that then builds up to a forte in illustration of the resurrection.
Klopstock’s resurrection poetry, however, not only inspired composers and musicians, but also his poet colleagues, among them Friedrich von Matthisson.
Settings of Friedrich von Matthisson
Friedrich von Matthisson (1761-1831) began to study theology at Halle in 1778, but later turned to philology and pedagogy. As travelling companion and private secretary of Princess Luise of Anhalt-Dessau he became a popular member of court society and made many contacts in aristocratic and cultural circles. After the death of the princess he entered the service of King Friedrich I of Württemberg. He was given the title of Confidential Legation Counsel and was Chief Librarian and member of the directorate of the Stuttgart Theatre. In 1828 Matthisson left Stuttgart and returned to the princedom of Anhalt-Dessau. He died in 1831 at Wörlitz. During his lifetime there appeared sixteen authorised editions of his poems of sensibility; he published a twenty-volume anthology of poems and wrote for the important literary journals of his time. In his Memoirs he provides a résumé of his eventful life. His senior, Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock, was among the poets that he revered from his youth. They met for the first time in May 1784 and thereafter remained in general but friendly contact.
In Matthisson’s writing seraphic poetry plays an important part. In his ‘poems of the angels’ earthly suffering is overcome through the promise of heavenly joy. At the centre of his poetic work stand two female figures, Elisa and Laura. The figure of Elisa has autobiographical elements: Elisa was the name of the betrothed of Jakob Friedrich Rosenfeld, one of the best friends of Matthisson in his youth. After Rosenfeld’s early death his betrothed died shortly afterwards of a broken heart. The Laura poems are in the Italian tradition of such works. The figure of Laura first appears in the dolce stil nuovo (c.1270-1310). The poets of this school paid tribute in their love poems to a spiritualised Laura. Over a century later Petrarch allotted the expression of unhappy love to his Laura. Petrarch’s Laura is, unlike the spiritual Laura of the dolce stil nuovo, a physical woman of the earthly world. In Matthisson’s poems and in the choice of texts by Schubert the physical and spiritual Laura are both to be found.
In the poem An Laura. Als sie Klopstocks Auferstehungslied sang, D115 (To Laura. As she sang Klopstock’s Resurrection Song) Matthisson was inspired by the setting of Klopstock’s Der Auferstehung (The Resurrection) by Carl Heinrich Graun. Schubert set the poem, like the Laura poem Die Betende, D102, (Laura Praying), in close imitation of a chorale and in this way stressed its religious feeling. Quite different is the style of Trost. An Elisa, D97, (Consolation. For Elisa), where the mourning Elisa is consoled in a personal address, and Schubert reacts to this direct speaking situation with musical speech in recitative style. The development from sorrow to hope is symbolized by Schubert through letting the musical tenderness of the recitative flow into ever quieter movement. The poem Die Sterbende, D186, (The Dying Woman) had the earlier title Die sterbende Elisa (Elisa Dying) and is also related to the known autobiographical Elisa. The central theme in Die Sterbende and in Vollendung, D579A, (Fulfilment) is the clearly described rising up into heaven. The poet in Erinnerung, D101, (Memory), is, on the contrary, still imprisoned in his grief; the union in paradise seems to him a silver streak on the horizon. Schubert provides this silver streak with musical skill by a programmatic modulation from minor to major at the beginning of the last verse, ‘Ihm Tränen opfern …’ (‘For him to shed tears’). The seductive love of the worldly Laura finds its brilliant expression in Entzückung, D413, (Rapture): ‘Tag voll Himmel, da aus Lauras Blicken / Mir der Liebe heilgstes Entzücken / In die wonnetrunk’ne Seele drang!’ (‘Day filled with heaven, when from Laura’s gaze / Love’s holiest rapture / brought my soul, drunk with delight!’). With arioso melody, declamatory pathos, bold changes of character in the piano part and expressive dynamic Schubert brings to life euphoric ecstasy.
A glance back at the beginning of this musical journey through ‘poetry of sensibility’ shows the richness of its emotional and sentimental range. In Dem Undendlichen ‘the Infinite’ is revered, and all worldly things are cast aside as small and worthless. In Entzückung the pleasures of worldliness are compared with the promise of happiness of religious paradise: ‘Glücklicher, in solcher Taumelfülle, / Werd’ ich, nach verstäubter Erdenhülle, / Kaum in Edens Myrthenlauben sein’ (‘Happier, in such giddiness, / shall I, after the dusty covering of earth, / hardly be in Eden’s myrtle groves’.)
Settings of Friedrich von Matthisson (contd.)
The poet in Stimme der Liebe, D187, 1st Version, (The Voice of Love) reveals his sense of the rich emotional world of Empfindsamkeit: nature on a spring evening promises him in the whispering of the wind and in the song of the nightingale the ‘joys of love’ (‘Freuden der Liebe’), which find their fulfilment when Laura came from the ‘labyrinth of plane-trees’ (‘aus der Platanen Labyrinth’). Schubert set the poem as a tender strophic song that through small crescendi, unobtrusive chromatic moves and intensifying repetitions of closing lines aptly reflects the atmosphere of the poem, but at the same time also allows prominence to Schubert’s individual reading of it. The gentle melancholy, for example, that sounds in the ‘prophetic lament’ (‘prophetischen Trauerlied’) of the cricket in Matthisson is only a momentary mood, but in Schubert, on the other hand, it becomes a central element of his strophic pattern and therefore of his whole musical interpretation. In Andenken, D99, (Remembrance), the poet embeds his repeated ‘Ich denke dein’ (‘I think of you’) (verses 1 to 3) in different images, moods and scenes and associates his confession with the plea ‘O denke mein, / Bis zum Verein / Auf besserm Sterne!’ (‘Oh think of me, / Until we meet / Under a better star!’) (verse 4). Schubert chooses the form of the varied strophic song so as to be able to accord with the different facets of the poem. The whole euphoric passion of his reading can be seen in the musical expansion of the fourth verse: he takes again the melody of the first verse, but builds it up through repetitions of the text, melodic expansions and dynamic increases to a passionate gesture. While in Stimme der Liebe and Andenken the gaze is directed to the present and the future, he looks back in Erinnerungen, D98, (Memories), to the past. One has the impression that the poet is singing alone, wandering through the countryside and thus recalls events with his beloved. Schubert chooses here, too, varied strophic form and through recitative and arioso passages (verses 4/5) increases the scenic effect of these memories.
Schubert turned to Geistertanz (Dance of Spirits) on three occasions. The first two are fragmentary versions and the third, completed version works as macabre counterpoint in the otherwise inner emotional harmony of the Matthisson settings. Schubert wrote down the two fragments, D15 on one page in 1812 and it may be assumed that they were written one shortly after the other. Schubert seems to have played musically with the lay-out of the poem: textual omissions, shifts and twists show his joy in experiment as well as the rich fullness of his musical ideas, and the two fragments offer a completely individual form. The music is in the dramatic style of his early ballads and with tremolo effects, a quotation of the Dies irae, recitatives, word-painting and rapid changes of mood, brings to life the horrible drama of the midnight scene. Particularly impressive are the twelve hammer-strokes at midnight, heard in the piano in the first version. The third version from 1814, D116, is completely different. Here the colourful abundance of ideas gives way to one clear musical concept. Schubert chooses as his basis the dance character of the gigue and within this circle of associations enters into the changing aspects of the gloomy proceedings. He succeeds, moreover, in bringing together in the melody elements of recitative and song and thereby translates musically the verbal structure of the poem and the physical experience of a danse macabre.
The poem Stimme der Liebe (Voice of Love) also inspired Schubert to a second version, D418. Instead of the tender melody of the earlier version there is a denser musical writing that gives the words an expressive strength. The lyrical statement in the Lied aus der Ferne, D107, (Song from Afar), suggests already in the title the concept of the song - the poet seems to turn to the distant beloved, not in words but in song. Schubert takes up this characteristic of the poem and composes a melodious setting very near to a strophic song. The song Geist der Liebe, D414, (Spirit of Love) is closely related textually and musically to Stimme der Liebe (1st Version) and charms with the gentle sounds of Empfindsamkeit in evening moods of love.
In the Lied der Liebe, D109, (Song of Love), the poet sings of his love to ‘the fairest of fairies’ (‘schönsten der Feen’) and it presents to his ‘prophetic spirit’ (‘ahnender Geist’) the sight of eternal love above. Schubert symbolizes this revelation of the spirit by changing at this point in the text from the previous more or less closed strophic style into open recitative. In Geisternähe, D100, (Nearness of Spirits), a lover addresses his distant friend and assures her of the presence always of his spirit about her. In Der Abdend, D108, (Evening), too, the spatial and temporal separations of earthly existence are removed through the realisation of the spiritual, and as in the Lied der Liebe a recitative is integrated with a strophic song: in the fourth recitative-like verse the presentiment of approaching death offers a sad mood, overcome, however, in the last verse of the poem. Possibly Schubert wanted here to stress the passing moment of sadness, but then leaves it again and in the strophic connection symbolizes the eternal connection between spirit and nature.
Matthisson’s Lebenslied, D508, (Song of Life), reads as a philosophic-theological declaration in which, after the drastic description of human errors and troubles, faith is exalted as the true guiding centre of life. Schubert developed a pattern for his strophic song that in abstract form took in the essential message of the poem: the change between major and minor, the contrast between the accented unison passage and the connecting melancholy clouding over, as well as the euphoria of the repetition of the last line, overcoming melancholy, reflect the situation of men in a world of opposites and of their musical reconciliation. In Romanze, D114, this is dramatically expressed: the tragic story is told of the noble lady Rosalia von Montanvert. Matthisson chose for this story of horror the title ‘Romanze’, thereby classifying it among the romances popular in his time. The category ‘Romance’ comes from Spanish poetry and in folk-style versenarratives treats stories of heroes and of love. It forms with its generally cheerful mood the counterpart of the melancholy ballad tradition of northern countries. The terms ‘Romance’ and ‘Ballad’ from the Sturm und Drang period (c.1767-1785) are often synonymous and the verse-narrative of Matthisson offers in romance form a gloomy tale of tragedy. Schubert takes up the epic character through musically narrative strophes (siciliano rhythm, arioso melody) and associates this with little dramatic scenes. The death of the woman, for example, is set dramatically: after the words ‘im Todesgram erstarb ihr Blick’ (‘in death’s grief her gaze died’) the vocal part and accompaniment break off abruptly, hesitating, isolated chords are increasingly interrupted by pauses, a musical representation of death ensues, and the voice part articulates in increasing agitation the words ‘sie sank und war nicht mehr’ (‘she sank down and was no more’). Happiness and joy in life bubble up again in the songs Die Erde, D579B, (The Earth), and Skolie, D507, (Drinking Song): in the arioso praise of the Creator Die Erde suggests an association with Haydn’s The Seasons and metaphysical feelings of happiness are displayed, while in the drinking-song Skolie earthly joys are celebrated.
The poem Naturgenuss, D188, (Enjoyment of Nature), has a close thematic relationship with Geist der Liebe and Stimme der Liebe. Nature, similarly on a spring evening, serves here too not as a purely idyllic background but appears as a living essence in which ‘the spirit of the Lord’ (‘der Geist des Herrn’) works. While in the two other poems nature is primarily assciated with worldly love, it appears in Naturgenuss as a living expression of metaphysical love. The fine melody is in 6/8 and offers in its serenity room for musical and poetic praise of God.
The songs Die Schatten, D50, (The Shades), Totenkranz für ein Kind, D275, (Wreath for a Child), and Klage, D415, (Lament), lead into the area of Empfindsamkeit concerned with grief, death and resurrection. In the ode Die Schatten a friend left behind addresses his dead companions rising up from the world below. He looks back at the importance they had for his life and declares in joyful hope their meeting again in heaven. It is noticeable that Schubert, with the exception of the third verse, gives prominence to the lyrical tone of the poem: the gently swinging 3/4 melody fits the verbal drama and the final form proclaims the inner feeling that they will meet again in heaven. While in Totenkranz für ein Kind parents mourn at the grave of their child, it is the death of a loved one that has given rise to mourning. Matthisson works here - and Schubert takes up this structure - through contrasts: the beauty of nature shines forth, but the mourner is separated from it and finds no consolation in it. The harmony of man and nature so typical of the Empfindsamkeit is here broken and the feeling of hopelessness is stressed.
The poem Julius an Theone has the power of a dramatic monologue. Matthisson added to the poem the remark ‘From an unfinished novel’ and so strengthens the impression that the dramatic address of Julius to Theone, unattainable to him, could be part of a greater work. The dramatic suffering of Julius comes from love at first sight, one little moment that can completely alter life. Schubert sets the lament of Julius partly as an elegiac arioso and partly in dramatic outbursts, thus expressing passionate strength of feeling. The lover who sings of his Adelaide, D95, is happy. He wanders in the ‘lovely magic light’ (‘lieblichen Zauberlicht umflossen’) through a spring garden and traces in nature and the universe the omnipresence of the one he worships. Schubert’s setting is an outstanding example of how sensitively the composer knew how to enter into Matthisson’s poetry. Alone in the varied settings of the name ‘Adelaide’ the whole magic unfolds of this emotional address to the beloved. A glance at the famous Adelaide of Beethoven shows how differently the two composers perceived Matthisson’s ‘little lyrical fantasy’: Beethoven’s reading is expressive and passionate, Schubert’s interpretation is filled with the gentle tones of the poem and brings this musically to life.
English version by Keith Anderson
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