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 (andSchubert's) luck in a letter to the then unquestioned Master of the Germanlanguage, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
A selection of German songs will constitute the beginning ofthis edition; it will consist of eight volumes. The first two (the first ofwhich, as an example, you will find in our letter) contains poems written byyour Excellency, the third, poetry by Schiller, the fourth and fifth, works byKlopstock, the sixth by Mathison, Holty, Salis etc., the seventh and eighthcontain songs by Ossian, whose works are quite exceptional.
The Deutsche Schubert-Lied-Edition follows the composer'soriginal concept. All Schubert's Lieder, over 700 songs, will be groupedaccording to the poets who inspired him, or according to the circle of writers,contemporaries, members of certain literary movements and so on, whose worksSchubert chose to set to music. Fragments and alternative settings, providingtheir length and quality make them worth recording, and works for two or morevoices with piano accompaniment will also make up a part of the edition.
Schubert set the poetry of over 115 writers to music. Heselected poems from classical Greece, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fromeighteenth-century German authors, early Romantics, Biedermeier poets, hiscontemporaries, and, of course, finally, poems by Heinrich Heine, althoughsadly the two never met.
The entire edition is scheduled for completion by 2006. Thanks to the Neue SchubertAusgabe (New Schubert Edition), published by Barenreiter, which uses primarysources - autograph copies wherever possible - the performers have been able tobenefit from the most recent research of the editorial team. For the firsttime, the listener and the interested reader can follow Schubert's textualalterations and can appreciate the importance the written word had for thecomposer.
The project's Artistic Advisor is the pianist UlrichEisenlohr, who has chosen those German-speaking singers who represent the eliteof 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 formusic-lovers would be a possible view of Schubert's setting of Erlkonig, D328,probably written in October 1815, both from the point of view of the composer'sown life and that of the history of music. As an inspired 'small step', Josefvon Spaun later related: 'We found Schubert full of enthusiasm, reading theErlkonig 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 workof researchers in Schubert studies as to how carefully the motifs, tonalitiesand rhythms of the four characters of the mini-drama, the narrator, father,child and Erl King, are arranged, and how their conflict is structuredmusically, one can hardly believe that such a compelling work could have beenwritten down in this way. Nevertheless there are, in addition to the versionthat was published in 1821, three earlier versions. Schubert reworked the songon several occasions. The changes are also small steps that make up one greatstep. First in the last version a tempestuous forte is stipulated from thebeginning, the triplets of the piano accompaniment are hammered out with bothhands in the last verse (thus greatly strengthening the revolutionaryindependence of the piano part in Schubert). The piano inserts after the breakin rhythm in the final recitative, 'in seinen Armen das Kind' (in his arms thechild) 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 publiccareer, so that he was often spoken of as the 'Erlkonig composer'. Schuberthimself in 1821 chose this song as his Opus 1, at a time when he had alreadywritten some five hundred songs. His stepping out onto the public stage was aride out in the wild gallop of death of a romantic, anti-enlightenment,folk-style poem from Goethe's Sturm und Drang period (1782), no beguilinglight-weight little song - the forbiddingly difficult piano accompaniment waspronounced unmarketable by the first publishers that Schubert approached - aballad that he had not treated at all in the form of the genre (as the 'trueballad-composer' Carl Loewe would do at the same period), but as a 'tragedy' inwhich 'the word is actually mortal' (A. Feil), a song that represents death notonly as a threat bringing fear and terror, but also as a temptation promisingfulfilment and happiness. While some later accused Schubert of having givenErlkonig melodies that were much too yearningly sweet (Max Friedlander in 1889still thought that Schubert had 'made of the German elfin-haunted forest afragrant orange-grove and dressed up the Nordic ghostly spirit in theattractive garb of seductive sensuality'), others were fascinated by this musicof romantic longing for death. On his death-bed Jean Paul was moved by theErlking's 'Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir' (Dear child, come, go with me),since the 'mysterious, secret, promised happiness that sounds through the voiceand the accompaniment lured him too with magic power to an enlightened, finerexistence', as Jean Paul's nephew related.
A bold great step forward, Schubert's Opus 1, and also astep beyond Goethe. In 1830 Goethe admitted, after a performance of the song bythe singer Wilhelmine Schroder-Devrient, that he had 'heard this compositiononce before, when it said nothing to me, but so performed it conveyedaltogether a clear picture'. 'Said nothing to him', but earlier he had spokenof 'all so-called through-composing of songs ... through which the generallyrical character is destroyed and a false interest in detail is demanded andaroused'. Yet Schubert had for a long time not always used the method of'through-composition' in setting poems in strophic form. In the collection ofsongs that Schubert's friends sent to Goethe in 1816 (and that were returnedwithout comment) there were, together with the revolutionary Erlkonig, alsoquite a few traditionally strophic songs, as for example Jagers Abendlied(D215) (Huntsman's Serenade) from Goethe's earlier group of poems, Verse anLida (for Charlotte Stein). The first version of June 1815 had two verses ofthe poem combined in one and the second part accompanied by continuingtriplets. 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 ofD flat major and with a clear division in the middle of each strophe,harmonically through the use of a dominant half close, formally through thevariation of the accompaniment figuration, which switches from chromaticinterpolations to repeated semiquavers.
This song appeared later as Opus 3 together with the settingof a poem similarly designated in the text as Lied. Schafers Klagelied, (D121),(Shepherd's Lament), contains, however, at least a reminiscence of strophicform settings, as well as a reference to folk-song. Goethe's six verses are infact closely cross-related to each other, the first corresponding to th