SCHUBERT: Lied Edition 20 - Poets of Sensibility, Volume 3 (Ulrich Eisenlohr/ Wolfgang Holzmair) (Naxos: 8.557568)
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Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Poets of Sensibility, Volume 3The Gottinger Hainbund: Settings of poemsby Matthias Claudius, Ludwig Holty andLeopold Graf zu Stolberg
The unique quality of Schubert as a song composer waslargely associated with the appearance of the two great,inspired Goethe settings, Gretchen am Spinnrade(1814) and Erlkonig (1815). The astounding originalityof these two compositions became the revolutionarystart of a whole epoch, initiating the setting of poemswith new standards and means, in which the strophicform was entirely abandoned and the hitherto secondarymusical 'accompaniment' was set free and given equalimportance with the poem. The exceptional nature ofthe two songs is undisputed, but this is a one-sided wayof looking at it. Many song-composers before Schuberthad already gone far in a similar direction, and aboveall the ballad compositions of Johann Rudolf Zumsteeg,highly prized by Schubert and taken up with greatenthusiasm, had done much to prepare the way.
At the same time there was, in Schubert's earlycareer, a group of poets of signal importance in hisdevelopment as a song-composer. These were the poetsof Empfindsamkeit, as well as those poets who, rootedin the Pietist tradition, in the middle of the eighteenthcentury, as a sign of newly awakened bourgeois selfawareness,created a new form of prose and poeticwriting. Individual feeling, personal sensibility beyonddogmatic guidelines and points of view, the reaction ofthe soul in face of all aspects of life and death, stood atthe centre of their writing. With this they were notopposed to the Enlightenment's ideal of reason, but sawit as a necessary completion of the self. Understandingand feeling should be brought together, united in thetrue sensibility of the heart. Stemming from England,the movement found considerable scope in Germanspeakingregions. Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock was itsforerunner, Friedrich Matthisson its most prominentrepresentative.
In the university town of Gottingen in about 1772some poets came together, giving their association thename Hainbund after an ode by Klopstock, Der H??gelund der Hain (The Hill and the Grove). Among theirnumber were Ludwig Holty, Johann Heinrich Voss, thebrothers Stolberg and others. Close to them stood,together with Klopstock himself, Matthias Claudius andthe ballad writer Gottfried August B??rger. It wasparticularly the simple, folk-style poems of the groupthat Schubert chose for his settings. With theirindividual basic attitude, always striving for emotionaland intellectual truth, they were personally near to him.
Yet also in stylistic and technical approach they areimportant for Schubert as a song-composer. In his'training' as a composer of the apparently simple formof the strophic or varied strophic song, he developed acommanding technique which, in his various writings,established him alongside the 'revolutionary' songcomposersmentioned at the beginning.
The many songs, particularly those of the earlyyears between 1813 and 1817, settings of poets of'sensibility', could be counted, as it were, as the soil onwhich the great, inspired early Goethe settings grew.
Yet it is certainly wrong to see these only as first steps.
Many of them, included here and on the earlierrecordings, are valuable in themselves, finished worksand the creation, even in their apparent simplicity, ofthe genius of the greatest song-composer that the worldhas produced.
The song Der Tod und das Madchen, D531, (Deathand the Maiden), a setting of Claudius, has a centralposition in Schubert's creative work. The thematicspectre 'Death' with his various aspects, fear of death,premature death, death as comforter and saviour, as theruling authority over human existence, is present in thelittle poem, and in Schubert's setting two elementsappear, structural components that recur in other works:the legendary metrical dactyl (long-short-short,accented note - unaccented - unaccented), the rhythm ofthe wanderer, of death, of the perpetual journey into theuncertain, and the idea of the 'perpetuum mobile', herein the 'endless loop' so characteristic in its harmonyand melody, and the overlapping periodic structure inwhich the first chords of the second, fourth and sixthbar sound simultaneously as the end and the beginningof a musical semi-phrase. Here we can experience anexample of Schubert's unique art, producing with themost sparing means the greatest expressive power.
Framed by Death's almost continuous opening andclosing music, the anxiously rising and yet againartlessly falling song of the maiden serves only as ashort, unimportant intermezzo in Death's infinite ocean.
Here the closest connection between the structure of thetext, musical form and expression predominates. Themelodic progressions in the first five bars of the songmove in small steps, rising at the word 'jung' to thehigh point of the melody, the arch falling downwardsagain at 'ich bin noch ...', the futility of pleading formercy truly reflected in the music. In the following line'und r??hre mich an', which Schubert repeats, theharmony changes for the first time to the major. Here isheard the despairing heart of one who seeks to converthis mortal enemy into a friend. The repetition of theline, falling into the minor, and finally the downwardmovement of the piano postlude shows that the maidenis already lost. Death starts his song in the minor, takingup again the motif of the beginning, but neverthelessnot the melodic upward and downward movement ofthe piano prelude, but in steady, simultaneouslysoothing and unyielding repetition of the note over sixlong bars. At the words 'Sei gutes Muts' the harmonychanges to the subdominant, the point of the deepestrange of the musical cadence. It is thus suggested thatthe best way to face death is as a release, while themelody, rising to the upper fifth of the harmony andstaying there in a repeated note over four bars, retainsthe inviting character of Death's words. With thecontinuation at the words 'sollst sanft' neverthelesssomething sinister happens: the bass, in the precedingbars moving in a soothing, lilting line, changes with twominute semitone steps towards a chasm. At the word'sanft' the harmony moves to an E major second chord,which stands at the greatest possible distance from thepreceding subdominant, B flat major, an interval of atritone, the sharpest dissonance in the tonal system.
Circling twice round this point of deepest suspense, themusic finally draws to a close in the major at the word'schlafen'; whether this shift is to redemption ordissolution into nothing remains open. In the last barSchubert writes a fermata over the last pause, notationthat prolongs the stillness at the end of the song, as itwere into infinity. The importance of the theme and themusical idea for Schubert is shown by his return to itagain in his famous String Quartet in D minor, writtenin March 1824, seven years after the song.
The authorship of the poem Der Leidende, D432,(The Sufferer), that Schubert himself ascribes to Holty,is a puzzle, as it is not listed among the latter's poems.
Besides, Schubert is very free with the text; one maycompare the differences in the two versions hereincluded, different in this respect from all other Holtysettings, where the textual changes for Holty's originalare from revisions by Johann Heinrich Voss. WaltherDuerr, in the New Complete Schubert Edition, presumesthe possibility of an original Schubert text in the style ofHolty. Compared with the other few poems written bySchubert (one set to music by himself, others to befound in his diaries) this seems not unlikely; a certainweariness with life, which today easily seems to ussentimentality, in Schubert's life always has realcauses, is always present. That the subject occupied himintensively is shown by the two ve