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ClassicsOnline Home » MOZART, W.A.: Songs (Complete)
Mozart loved the human voice, which he used as an instrument of musical expression throughout his compositional career from the age of six or seven. His Lieder, written largely in response to requests and commissions from acquaintances, friends and publishers deal with everyday subjects such as friendship and romance but also with social and political occasions such as the Emperor Joseph II’s Turkish campaign. Some were written in connection with Mozart’s activities as a freemason. Only one, the bitter-sweet Das Veilchen (The Violet) is set to the words of a major poet, Goethe. The many miniature masterpieces to be heard on this recording include Komm, liebe Zither, komm (Come, dear Zither), a musical precursor, with mandolin accompaniment, of Don Giovanni’s serenade Deh vieni alla finestra, the idyllic Der Zauberer (The Sorcerer) and the dramatically graphic Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte (When Louisa burned the letters of her unfaithful lover).
By Richard Gate
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) Complete Songs
Mozart’s songs - more than marginalia?
Mozart loved song and the human voice which he used as the predominant instrument of musical expression throughout his compositional career. Vocal works – eighteen completed operas and Singspiels, fifty arias with orchestral accompaniment as well as songs for several voices, canons, eighteen Masses including the Requiem, litanies, vespers, oratorios, cantatas and other sacred works with voices – occupy a central place in his total output. It is not simply due to the fact that the easiest and quickest path to fame for a composer of Mozart’s time was to write operas. Mozart was ambitious and throughout his whole life wanted to be recognised as his talent and the quality of his work merited. This outward drive was allied to the indispensable creative need that impels every artistic genius to produce work restlessly and constantly. In a short life-span of little more than thirty years this resulted in one of the most astonishing and most complete artistic outputs in the history of mankind.
Within this oeuvre are about thirty songs which are only of peripheral importance, probably accidental by-products of a huge building-site from which other projects were created. The genre of the piano-accompanied solo art-song was in its infancy. Works of the so-called Second Berlin Lieder School, written by the composers Abraham Peter Schulz, Johann Friedrich Reichardt and Karl Friedrich Zelter, were devoted more or less to the ideal of a folk-song-like simplicity, tailor-made for the cultural needs of an enlightened bourgeoisie which demanded catchy and edifying songs for its salons and living-rooms. Yet other composers were experimenting and trying to do things differently. In his Odes and songs to be sung at the piano, published in 1785, Christoph Willibald Gluck, through his choice of elaborate dramatic poems by Klopstock, and a complete subordination of the music to word-setting and metrical verse, experimented with an ‘antique’ style. The Swabian composer Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg on the other hand opted for a non-strophic, through-composed, form in his sweeping ballads which strongly impressed and influenced the young Schubert. Yet the period of the song as a vehicle for the expression of the personal, the intimate and the romantically-lyrical lay far in the future.
So why did Mozart write songs anyway? To answer this question it is helpful to look more closely at the circumstances of their genesis. First of all there are the external reasons; there were enquiries from music publishers and almanacs (fourteen of Mozart’s songs were published in his lifetime), social events, for example Des kleinen Friedrichs Geburtstag (Little Frederick’s Birthday), written for the hereditary Prince Friedrich von Anhalt-Dessau, Lied beim Auszug in das Feld (Song Upon Departure for Battle), composed on the occasion of the Turkish campaign under Emperor Joseph ll and commissions and requests from friends and acquaintances - “Pieces for Friends” as Mozart used to call them. Then there were works written in connection with his activities as a freemason - Auf die feierliche Johannisloge (At the ceremonial Johannes-Lodge) and Lied zur Gesellenreise (Song for the Initiate’s Journey), for example.
The two songs with French texts, Oiseaux, si tous les ans (Birds, if every year…) and Dans un bois solitaire (In a solitary wood) were written for the exceedingly attractive Gustl Wendling, daughter of the Mannheim flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, who gave Mozart the texts herself. She must also have been an excellent singer for, according to Mozart, she sang one of the songs ‘incomparably’. The wonderful song Das Traumbild (The Vision) is a very special kind of favour to a friend, as is the no less inspired Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte (When Louisa burned the letters of her unfaithful lover). Mozart gave these two songs to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, whereupon Jacquin published them under his own name, together with four of his own songs, and dedicated them to two of his countless girlfriends. Mozart had assigned him authorship expressly.
But perhaps Mozart did not always need specific occasions to write songs. After his death his sister Nannerl pointed out that he had a certain sudden interest in the genre: “We have collections of beautiful songs (i.e. poems), written out in Mozart’s own hand as he came across them, and occasionally he set them to music.”
Mozart wrote the first three songs on disc 1 in a single day, 14th January 1791. They were published by his friend Ignaz Alberti in a “Collection of songs for children and young friends”. Sehnsucht nach der Frühlinge, KV 596 (Longing for Spring) attained the status of a folksong and so became perhaps the best-known of all Mozart’s works. Its character is so childlike, serene and carefree and so perfect in its compositional structure. In its recurring melody and harmony it conforms precisely to what a composition lesson would epitomize as an exemplary ‘simple song-form’. Yet at the end is an unmistakeable stroke of genius: a witty piano postlude in ritornello form which breaks up and counteracts the formality of what had gone before with amusing staccati, cheeky little embellishments and a lively country dance to end with. Any number of second-rate composers of the eighteenth century could have written the first part of the song but the ending is pure Mozart. He re-used the melody of the song in the final movement of his last piano concerto, though in that context it was imbued with different tonal qualities and emotional undertones. It shows that Mozart did not regard yearning in a naïvely childish or unrefracted way but rather as full of ambivalence and with that bitter-sweet expressiveness which would later acquire such an important resonance in the Romantic period.
Der Frühling, KV 597 (The Spring) is on an altogether higher stylistic level: the dramatic opening, with its solemn chords on the piano, the fanfare-like beginning of the vocal line, the alternation of diatonic and chromatic harmonies, the dramatic pauses, the insistent organ pedal in the middle of the song and the virtuoso piano postlude all make this work more than merely a song for children. With its energetic glorification of creatures and creation, its colourfulness and its avowedly positive attitude to life, it anticipates somewhat Haydn’s great Creation.
If the state of childhood is virtually sublimated and stylized in Sehnsucht nach der Frühling then in Das Kinderspiel KV 598 (Children’s Games) it appears direct and undisguised. The music is boisterous, breathlessly high-spirited, almost over-excited and, if we are to believe the accounts of Mozart’s temperament and his pace of life, then this little song reveals the more natural, the more personal Mozart.
The following freemasonic songs inhabit an altogether different world. In December 1784 Mozart was admitted to the Masonic lodge Zur Wohltätigkeit (To Beneficence) and he remained faithful to Masonic circles to the end of his life. He was profoundly influenced by, and attracted to, the predominantly liberal and spiritual attitudes, as well as the cult of friendship, which he found there.
Mozart wrote Auf die feierliche Johannisloge, KV 148 (At the Ceremonial Johannes-Lodge) and Lied zur Gesellenreise, KV 468 (Song for the Initiate’s Journey) for Masonic gatherings. These works were not written with any high artistic ambition but were designed to be within the capabilities of the assembled company when it sang. The first is chorale-like and its final line is to be repeated by the brothers singing together. The second he wrote for the initiation of a brother into the Masonic order; it is highbrow in tone, with an extended selfcontained introduction and postlude. The instruction: “with organ or piano accompaniment” shows us that, as far as writing for a specific occasion was concerned, the instrumental means was of secondary importance for Mozart - the song had to fit the occasion and be played by whatever instrument was to hand, whether it be organ, piano or harmonium.
The composition Die Ihr des Unermeßlichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt, KV 619 (You who honour the creator of the measureless universe) occupies a special place. Its scale went beyond the scope of the song with piano accompaniment; its form, with its alternations of recitative and aria, as well as the orchestral gestures of the accompaniment, show it to be a sacred solo-cantata. Franz Heinrich Ziegenhagen’s hymn puts an enlightened body of thought into the clothing of freemasonry. In fact, many Masonic lodges of the second half of the eighteenth century were places in which the tenets of the Enlightenment - reason, tolerance, man’s selfdetermination - were pondered, discussed and guarded, and at the same time brought into line with a religiousness founded on ethics. Of course a text that would allow believers to name a “creator of the measureless universe” as Jehova, God, Fu or Brahma, would have no place in a Christian church. Nevertheless, or perhaps even because of that, Mozart was not held back from an intense emotional and compositional engagement by Ziegenhagen’s sometimes very dramatic statements. Die Ihr des Unermeßlichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt, written in the few months before his death, at roughly the same time as The Magic Flute, is surely one of the strangest and most surprising among Mozart’s vocal works. The introduction and first section of the piece teem with a proselytizing zeal, changing to melodious insistence at the humanistic appeal to the love of God and brotherly love („Liebt mich in meinen Werken“ / “Love me in my works”). The following Allegro („Zerbrechet dieses Wahnes Bande“ / “Smash the bonds of this illusion”) is invested with a piquantly distinctive fanfare-like motif of missionary zeal and then, in an almost Beethovenian fury, moves on to the demand for iron („…das Menschenblut bisher vergoss“ / “…that hitherto shed the blood of men”) to forge sickles. In a brilliant closing stretto the music summons up the vision („…wahren Lebensglücks“ / “…life’s true happiness”), when it is finally reached. In every bar it can be heard how ambitious and inspired Mozart was as he embraced this text so whole-heartedly, a text which surely accorded with his own beliefs and which spoke to him from the heart.
The following group of love songs begins with an unprepossessing piece, just fifteen bars long - Wie unglücklich bin ich nit, KV 147 (How unhappy I am). It poses the problem: who wrote the text - perhaps even the sixteen-year old Mozart himself? Is it meant seriously? For the music, at the start at least, sounds anything but unhappy; only at the word „schmachtend“ (“yearning”) and at „Seufzern“ (“sighs”), at the mounting sorrows, are there musical figures which correspond to these emotions. This is so, above all, at „…wenn ich an Dich denke“ (“when I think of you”), when the music suddenly changes character, becoming seemingly carefree and dancing elatedly. So we are touched by this early, charming testament to a Mozartian song composition, but we are left wondering about it.
Komm, liebe Zither, komm, KV 351 (Come, Dear Zither, Come) is a musical precursor of Don Giovanni’s serenade “Deh vieni alla finestra”. The original mandolin accompaniment contributes marvellously to the discreet charm of this little song.
Die Verschweigung, KV 518 (The Silence) and Der Zauberer, KV 472 (The Sorcerer) are based on poems by the ‘anacreontic’ poet Christian Felix Weiße. His texts, with their typical figures of the pastoral idyll, Damon and Chloë, inspired Mozart to write two masterly miniatures. In their musical form, and using only a few notes, these two songs paint the delicate depictions of the situations and qualities of the poems’ subjects. At the same time the music has enough flexibility to satisfy the varying demands of the text of each verse.
The final phrases of both poems are typical: Mozart sets the first of these („…und er ist jung, und sie ist schön, ich will nichts weiter sagen“ / “…and he is young, and she is pretty, I will say nothing more”) with an unforgettable musical dash, with a postlude in the ‘galant’ style which, without actually saying anything, reveals everything. In the famous Der Zauberer (The Sorcerer) the rhythm and melody of the vocal part in the last line of verse is written in such a way that the decisive phrase of the last verse (“Just then, by good luck, my mother came by”) sounds almost inevitable, as though the mother’s appearance was nothing more than welcome and wishedfor by the young girl. And so the composer turns out to be an ironic commentator on Weiße’s poem and undermines the strict moral ending with his music.
An Chloë, KV 524 (To Chloë) brings together vitality, enthusiastic exuberance and musical con brio. In this respect, as well as having the same basic key and motivic parallels, it is closely related to one of Mozart’s most fascinating stage characters - Cherubino from The Marriage of Figaro - and his aria “No sò piú cosa son, cosa faccio” (“I don’t know where I am, what to do”). As in the opera, the subject here is earthly love, and Mozart’s composition style shows an ambiguous/unambiguous text in „Den berauschten Blick umschattet/eine düstre Wolke mir“ (“A dark cloud casts a shadow over my enchanted gaze”). The words are separated from one another by irregular short pauses („Den berausch - ten Blick - umschattet - eine düst - re Wol - ke mir“); so there comes into being an almost hectically-breathless, panting expression which leaves one in no doubt at all as to what sort of “dark cloud” this is. Then Mozart, again with the last line of text, passes on to us a further frivolous point: “And I sit next to you, exhausted but contented”. From that Mozart stresses the line „Und ich sitze dann ermattet, aber selig neben dir“ (“And I sit exhausted but contented next to you ...contented next to you”) increasingly strongly and more demonstratively until the tiny word „neben“ (“next to”), which naturally provokes the discreet question, where was he before, if not “next to” her…?
Mozart’s Das Lied der Trennung, KV 519 (Song of Separation) and Schubert’s Luisens Antwort, D.319 (Louisa’s Answer) make a curious literary pair. The oft-repeated refrain “Perhaps Louisa will forget me for ever” in the fifteen long elegiac verses of Klamer-Schmidt’s poem Lied der Trennung is answered by Ludwig Theobul Kosegarten’s poem Luisens Antwort: “No, never, William, Louisa will never forget you”, a declaration repeated nineteen times in as many verses. In fact Das Lied der Trennung is a remarkable work. It begins as a strophic song (which clearly allows the performers the commendable option of shortening Klamer’s too numerous verses) then suddenly breaks out in the middle into a through-composed section in order to return at the end to the strophic melody of the beginning. Furthermore this music testifies to Mozart’s powerful inner involvement. It sounds inwardly nervous and restless and its apparently musical theatricality throughout has nothing operatic about it but serves emotional intensification and emphasis.
Luisens Antwort was set by Schubert, with obvious musical echoes of Mozart, which suggests that perhaps Schubert even knew Mozart’s song. So the recording of Schubert’s song here makes literary sense and is musically interesting.
Die betrogene Welt, KV 474 (The Deceived World) offers Mozart the possibility of composing a sharplytheatrical and comedically-sarcastic characterization of situations and of people. „Der reiche Tor“ (“The rich fool”) appears in a showy ascending scale and the magnetic attraction of his wealth to Selimena is almost tangible in the following extended phrases. The „wackre Mann“ (“duped man”) is accompanied by a well-behaved regular cadential sequence, while on the other hand the „Stutzer“ (“dandy”) is characterized by affectedly chromatic ornamentation. The following magnificent wedding celebration consists of murmuring trills and slurred notes in the accompaniment, ending in accented unisons. After a pregnant pause, the inevitable repentance limps behind, with pitiful sighs and dark minor-chord repetitions. Finally, the music is suspended over a connecting cadence, parodying bel canto, into the cynically-happy refrain: “The world wishes to be deceived, so it will be deceived.” This farewell celebration can be clearly heard; Mozart obviously agrees, in grim pleasure, with Weiße’s cynicism.
The protagonist of the next song, Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte, KV 520 (When Louisa burned the letters of her unfaithful lover) has nothing literary to do with the aforementioned Louisa. Mozart describes this Louisa in an effusive “forced-ride” through passionate despair, painful melancholy, burning jealousy and embittered lamentation in a graphic, urgently precise and insistent way. This song can be seen as a prime example of Mozart’s abiding interest in opera, far removed from romantic introspection and much more akin musically to a dramatic stage monologue.
The Lied der Freiheit, KV 506 (Song of Freedom), written in the style of a folk-song, puts an end to the palaver of the sorrows of love, of dependence on princes and of greed. The man who: “…can live happily by his hearth, for himself and not for others” is free of all these complications - and can easily be seen perhaps as a forerunner of today’s “singletons”.
Mozart wrote the two songs to French texts, Oiseaux, si tous les ans, KV 307 (Birds, if every year…) and Dans un bois solitaire, KV 308 (In a lonely wood) during his stay in Mannheim in 1777/78. They are his first through-composed songs (i.e. not in a strophic form) and were written in the style of the ariettas usually found in French opéra comique. The first tells of the birds of passage which escape the winter, not only because of the bare trees and the cold, but because it is in their nature only to love in the season of flowers. When this season is over, wherever they are they seek sunny climes elsewhere so that they can love all year round. The melody is oriented strongly to linguistic declamation and the meaning of the text, the harmony, rhythm and form are pithily and charmingly composed. The second song can be heard as a dramatic scene and tells of a young man, wandering alone through a forest, who unexpectedly happens upon Cupid asleep under a tree. He approaches him carelessly to look at him - and sees in him the features of a beautiful but unfaithful lover. But he lets slip a sigh, Cupid wakes and, furious at being so rudely disturbed, runs him through with one of his terrible arrows; for the rest of his life he will now have to languish at Sylvia’s feet and suffer for having woken Cupid. Musically the piece is extremely rich: between the lyrical opening and closing sections, in a dark, mysterious A flat major, a key extremely rarely used by Mozart, the music changes from the sounding of the fateful sigh (“…un soupir m’échappe” / “…I let slip a sigh”) in a dramatic gesture, then in the form of an orchestral accompanied recitative, then in a large-scale intensification, building up to the catastrophe of the arrow-shot and the collapse of the victim. After a further short recitative section the whole work is rounded off in a slightly altered return of the opening music. Both songs testify to Mozart’s huge compositional ambition, here completely achieved. Of Mozart’s antipathy to the French language - he once described it as: “…so dastardly damnable for [setting to] music” - there is no sign.
For a long time the canzonetta Ridente la calma, KV 152 (Smiling, tranquility fills my soul) was thought to be by Mozart. After his death his wife Constanze offered it for publication as an original work of his, but recent research indicates that the composition was from the pen of the Czech composer Josef Mysliveãek. Mozart met Mysliveček in Bologna in 1772 and they became friends. Since there exists in the National Library in Paris, under Mysliveček’s name, a version of this work for voice and orchestra, with slight alterations and different opening words, it is assumed that the extended version with piano accompaniment which appears today in all the Mozart song editions, is merely an arrangement by Mozart. Whatever the truth of the matter, Ridente la calma is a wonderful, light, calm and carefree flowing cantilena, full of Italian elegance and delicacy, which sings of the peace of mind of a man in love.
Die Zufriedenheit, KV 349 (Contentment) („Was frag ich viel nach Geld und Gut“ / “What need have I of money and property”) exists in two versions, one with piano accompaniment and the other with mandolin. Mozart carefully adapted the vocal line to fit the differing characteristics of each instrument. The original, and probably earlier, version for the mandolin is easier and more folk-song-like than the musically richer-sounding and later version for piano.
An die Freude, KV 53 (To Joy) is Mozart’s earliest extant song, written at the age of twelve. It is a basso continuo song, an unassuming, cheerful and relaxed hymn of praise to joy but it has absolutely nothing in common with the exalted paean of Schiller and Beethoven.
Verdankt sei es dem Glanz der Großen, KV 392 (I thank the glory of the great), Sei du mein Trost, KV 391 (Be my comfort) and Ich würd auf meinem Pfad, KV 390 (I would go on my path) are all by Johann Timotheus Hermes and form a literary as well as a musical unity. The poems were written as interpolations in the then very popular novel Sophiens Reise von Memel nach Sachsen (Sophie’s Journey from Memel to Saxony). In these pieces Mozart follows the type of “uplifting song” after the example of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. According to his biographer, Alfred Einstein, it was Mozart’s only excursion into the world of “sensibility” current at that time. The unusual performance indications (“Indifferent and happy”, “Sad but collected”, “Moderato, in a walking tempo”) indicate a corresponding response to the texts. In the first song the philosophy of life of an enlightened and democratic body of thought of the European bourgeoisie - between modesty and self-awareness - is expounded : “It is no shame to be small” it says. And, in a letter to his father in 1778, Mozart wrote in similar vein: “The heart ennobles mankind and although I am no Count perhaps I have more honour in me than many a Count”. Mozart’s music is simple, yet in no way subdued; rather it is clear, self-assured and has, in a certain sense, a didactic tone of voice. Quite out of the ordinary is the pair of songs Sei du mein Trost and Ich würd auf meinem Pfad. Both compositions deepen the “sensibility” of the poems to their very core, with a heavily-chromatic, musicallyintractable form and a melancholic expression. Unusually, both songs are exactly thirteen bars long - evidence perhaps of a Mozartian number-symbolism?
Die Zufriedenheit, KV 473 (Contentment) („Wie sanft, wie ruhig fühl“ / “How gentle, how peaceful I feel here”) is virtually a big sister to the aforementioned song with the same title. Its message is similar but, in its mature, cantabile beauty, its rich harmony and fullness, with its nine-bar introduction and three-bar postlude, the music of this setting towers above its predecessor.
Die Alte, KV 517 (The Old Woman) shows us a charmingly comic, even roughly-sketched, characterstudy close to opera buffa. How Mozart portrays the excitement of the funny old woman through shortwinded, upward-spiralling melodic motifs, as well as the almost identical repeated phrases emphasizing her knowall manner; how he creates a powerfully didactic tone with little rhythmic stretchings („…doch…“ / “…yet…”) and accelerations („…alles mit Bescheidenheit“ / “…all with modesty…”) and even her gesture of the raised forefinger!; how, at the end of the verses, he caricatures the old woman and her moaning and groaning, harping on about the now bygone good old days, by picking up on the concluding motif in the vocal line and speeding it up and doubling the time in the piano postlude. All that is absolutely masterly.
Die kleine Spinnerin, KV 531 (The Little Spinning- Girl) is, like Des kleinen Friedrichs Geburtstag (Little Frederick’s Birthday) and Das Kinderspiel (Children’s Games), close to the world of the Viennese Singspiel. It is characterized by a lively declamatory vocal line moving in regular quavers, and by a simple supporting piano accompaniment with a witty and pointed prelude and postlude which represent here the laborious gettinggoing, then the quick whirring, of the spinning-wheel.
The Lied beim Auszug in das Feld, KV 552 (Song Upon Departure for Battle) can really be regarded as a commission. It was intended as propaganda for young people to support the unpopular Turkish campaign of Emperor Joseph II in 1788. Whether Mozart himself took the commission and subject-matter entirely seriously is open to doubt, if the subtle and humorous music is anything to go by. The big pause between „... rief Joseph seinen Heeren“ (“…Joseph summoned his armies”) and „sie eilten flügelschnell herbei“ (“they hurried quickly to him”) has the effect of an irritating delay in the alleged lightning-quick and eager drawing-up of the army, while the violent and somewhat grotesque outburst right at the start of the piano postlude can be seen as having subversive potential.
The Two German Church Songs O Gottes Lamm, dein Leben (O Lamb of God) and Als aus Ägypten Israel, KV 343 (When out of Egypt), also owe their existence to a favour for a friend. The director of the première in Prague of The Marriage of Figaro, which was a huge success for Mozart, was also the choir-master of a parish church. It was here that the songs were first sung and later were also published in a Prague song-book. In their simple choral incarnation the songs were obviously not art-songs but were intended as functional music for the congregation of the church. Nevertheless one can admire in these songs Mozart’s perfect harmonic and melodic structure.
Des kleinen Friedrichs Geburtstag, KV 529 (Little Frederick’s Birthday) is a cheerfully sentimental birthday serenade which stresses the extremely wholesome and endearing qualities of the birthday-boy by means of an affectionate melody and a gently-flowing piano accompaniment.
With the next three works we reach the real absolute highpoint of Mozart’s small body of songs. In its symbiosis of text and music Das Veilchen, KV 476 (The Violet) is an especially accomplished total work of art - and unfortunately it is the only song by Mozart which has a text of literary substance. Because of that it has been accidentally shoved into a “collection of German songs” where the poem was even published erroneously under the name of Johann Wilhelm Ludwig Gleims. One can only speculate as to why Mozart did not seek out lyrics of quality. He sought poems less for their inspiration or artistic challenge and more as a trigger for pure musical composition. Das Veilchen demonstrates to us what could have been had Mozart only involved himself with Goethe or with other poets of his calibre. It is a perfect song, cast in the form of a dramatic scene, which shows all the qualities of the highest art of characterization: the sensitive theme of the violet, which begins unassumingly but ends in a powerful and manly fashion (the theme belongs also to the young man in love), the dancing motif of the shepherdess, whose glorious song we hear in the piano interlude, the dramatic intensification up to the catastrophe of the trampling underfoot of the violet, the sympathetic commentary of the narrator („…das arme Veilchen…“ / “…the poor violet…”), the rounding off, yet at the same time distanced, ending - all this is perfect and indispensable, right down to the smallest note.
Das Traumbild KV 530 (The Vision) is an elegiac and yearningly-tender love song. In its key, expression and motivic details it is related to the Countess’s cavatina from The Marriage of Figaro. Whether the vision in question can ever be found in reality the text and the music leave undecided.
Abendempfindung an Laura, KV 523 (Evening thoughts of Laura) can possibly be regarded as Mozart’s most personal song composition. In a letter to his father in 1787 Mozart had mentioned the subject of death thus: “…since death in particular is the true ultimate aim of our life, so for a few years now I have got to know the true best friend of man so well that his image holds no terrors for me any more, only much reassurance and consolation.” This attitude to life comes out in Mozart’s setting of the poem, ascribed to Johann Heinrich Campe, without denying a certain apprehension and melancholy in the face of death. The poetic train of thought and consequently the presentiment of death of the ‘lyrical self’ grow from the “moon’s silver gleam”. The tears, like pearls, of his friends commemorate his death and their empathy and sympathy build a bridge, in an allembracing way, between the living and the dead. This is so plausibly and movingly realized through a characteristically falling seventh, which is heard in the voice at the beginning of the song („…der Mond strahlt Silberglanz“ / “…the moon casts a silvery gleam”) and which pervades the whole work right up to “the jewel in my crown” at the end. Formally and as regards the text, the poem and the song are related to the ‘limelight’ arias of baroque opera, in which the singer, in a kind of moralising lecture or personal request, addressed the public directly: „Schenk auch Du ein Tränchen mir“ (“Shed a little tear for me”). Yet this speech is far removed from the demonstrative gesture of the tradition; rather, it marks a huge step forward to the spiritualised dialogue - or monologue - of the ‘lyrical self’ and it opens the door wide on the romantic song.
The closing song fragment Einsam bin ich, meine Liebe, KV 26 Appendix (I am lonely, my love) is, in spite of its brevity, an estimable piece of music. The grief, expressed in just a few notes, is actually profound. The eight bars have the effect of a short alarming revelation of the darkest side of Mozart’s feelings. Here the fragmentary form not only makes sense but is an element of what the form itself tells us. It appears meaningful and, so to speak, as the essence of the message of a work of art: something is lacking, someone is lacking and the gap is not to be filled.
English version by David Stevens
Sung texts and translations can be accessed at www.naxos.com/libretti/557900.htm
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MOZART, W.A.: Songs (Complete)