SCHUBERT: Lied Edition 2 - Schwanengesang (Michael Volle/ Ulrich Eisenlohr) (Naxos: 8.554663)
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THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION 2
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
About The 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 2008. 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.
"Out of my great pain I make my little songs"
"To the numerous admirers of Schubert's classic muse we offer under the above-mentioned title the last flowering of his noble genius: namely, those poetry settings which he wrote in August 1828, shortly before he passed away." Thus ran the advertisement in the Wiener Zeitung in May 1829 for a collection of hitherto unpublished songs by Franz Schubert. Soon after the composer's death his brother Ferdinand agreed to sell a number of compositions to the publisher Tobias Haslinger; among them was a notebook containing settings of seven poems by Ludwig Rellstab and six by Heinrich Heine. Haslinger added ' Die Taubenpost' (The Pigeon Post), a setting of a poem by Johann Gabriel Seidl written in October 1828, and gave the collection the effective title Swan-Song.
The swan-song provided a popular poetic metaphor in the conventional, bourgeois world of early nineteenth century Biedermeier Vienna. Johann Christostomus Senn, a member of Schubert's circle of friends, based an eight-line poem around the idea that the swan is only able to sing with bewitching beauty once in its life: when it is facing death.
How shall I cry out in the death that I feel.
Dissolving my body in its currents.
How shall I praise the life that I feel.
Breathing liberation into you, my spirit?
He moaned, he sang in fear of death,
For joy at his transformation,
Until life fled.
That is the meaning of the swan's song.
Senn had spent a year in prison awaiting trial on a charge of political subversion and was then banished to the provinces. Presumably, the two poems of his, written in exile, which were set to music in 1822 and included in Opus 23, were brought to Schubert by a mutual friend. Against this background today's reader sees Schwanengesang not only as a metaphor, or, as in Senn's poem, a string of moods, but also perceives a deeper dimension. Is there not, hiding behind the glorification of death, a living being's longing to be as free as the spirit no longer confined within the body: in other words, a longing for a change in the status quo? Freedom of the spirit means not being the victim of political, social or personal constraints; it means being able to live out one's emotions - love above all. But why is it, asks the poet Karl Mickel in his essay Hohes Paar (The Noble Couple, 1979) "that the lyric poets in the first third of the nineteenth century all suffered unrequited love, if we are to believe their verses? And why is it that those who clearly had no problems with women on a personal level weep and wail with the rest; Heine, for instance, up to the onset of his illness "could command any salon"?" And he replies: "Unrequited love was a standard subject for poetry... The Romantic poets were so dominated by these stock themes that they denied their personal experience or were prepared to experience only what conformed with these themes...". This "stock poetic theme" is always present in Schubert's Lied -compositions, too, as the texts he chose were mainly written by his contemporaries. Unlike Heine, Schubert knew from experience about the suffering love can cause. If we are to believe the early biographical reports, Schubert and Therese Grob, the sweetheart of his youth, intended to get married. The reason why the wedding was put off and then cancelled altogether was not because they loved each other too little, or that their feelings cooled, but probably lay in the "marriage agreement law", passed in 1815, which meant that Schubert had to provide proof "of sufficient income to feed the family". As an assistant teacher he was unable to do so, still less as an unemployed musician.
These and other state controls which affected even the most private spheres of life, not to mention the constant spying carried out by Metternich's secret police, stifled any kind of spontaneity. People sought relief from mind-numbing reality in lively social gatherings and fled from the imprisonment (not only architectural) of the city to the open country - whether literally or in lyrical fantasies is another question. Thus unrequited love, poetry's "standard subject", lends a special significance to the metaphor of "wandering" and the "wanderer" in Biedermeier times. Wagner still has his Wotan flee from hearth and home in Walhalla. But just as the living must pay for their longed-for spiritual freedom with death, so the wanderer pays for his independence with the torments of restlessness and exile. With this in mind, one