SCHUBERT: Lied Edition 23 - Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 3
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THE DEUTSCHE SCHUBERT-LIED-EDITION 23
Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of Poems by Austrian Contemporaries, Vol. 3
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.
The third and last volume of our recordings of song settings of poems by Schubert's Austrian contemporaries offers, like the previous volumes, names of poets which have been largely forgotten and are not even current among German scholars. Most of these writers were dilettante poets, who published their work in almanacs, periodicals or private printings, to be read and appreciated in cultivated bourgeois circles. Their literary second rank did not prevent Schubert from choosing them for his settings if they fulfilled some important conditions that roused his artistic inspiration, profundity and distinctiveness of the basic idea, vividness of poetic imagery, emotional truth, compatibility with Schubert's own view of the world or awareness of life, as far as we today are able to interpret it. Under these circumstances he was able to combine poetry that was in itself qualitatively inferior, imperfect in form and language, with his music into substantial, profound and convincing statements. That the sometimes lesser quality of the verses has often been forgotten through the beauty of the music is due to the genius of Schubert; but for the fact that these songs were actually written and can still speak to and move us today we must thank the enthusiasm and artistic character and communicative skills of poets today generally forgotten.
The first two songs might sound similar but are at heart varied: while ' Himmelsfunken' (Flashes of Heaven) with its slow, steady chorale-type chords in the piano part and almost endless arches of melody of sublime beauty may summon up an association with the quiet circles of the stars, the running chains of semiquavers in the piano accompaniment of ' Der Mondabend' (The Moonlit Evening) together with the cheerful, dancing charm of the vocal melody, depict the thousandfold illumination of the starry night sky. Both songs, in spite of their completely different pattern, radiate the coming peace of evening that was to people of Schubert's time as familiar as today. Both of them have as a theme the awakening of yearning so ever-present in Schubert; in each the poet seeks the merging of the soul with the infinite, in the second with something much more earthly: the poet's beloved Silli.
'Bertas Lied in der Nacht' (Bertha's Lullaby) too describes an evening and nocturnal scene, yet here dark colours preponderate, and in the gloomy piano prelude and the following unison of voice and accompaniment there is a suggestion of the uncanny, expressed through the grandiose image of the night as a giant bird that with its wings covers the world (one may compare this with the famous Eichendorff/Schumann ' Zwielicht' ). Yet the feeling of apprehension disappears with the calming gestures in the text and music; finally slumber, the 'lovely child', comes even to the comforting, soothing Saviour of mankind, who, grieving, was still watchful, and in an almost endless 'fading away' the music itself appears to fall asleep.
After so much nocturnal scenery ' Cora an die Sonne' (Cora to the Sun) brings brighter colours and a hymn-like style. In spite of its simple strophic form, with its wide-spanned, expansive arches of melody it looks forward to high romanticism, while ' Mein Gruß an den Mai' (My Greeting to May), with its dancing, buoyant motion and ritornello-like interludes remains within conventional lines.
Die Blumensprache (The Language of Flowers) belongs to the sphere of flower songs and ballads so beloved of Schubert. Here the flowers appear as interpreters - here in the sense of clarifying, reporting - the feelings of the hearts of those who are loved and those who love. Schubert avoids the danger of illustrating musically in detail the text, rich in language and imagery, by the choice of a simple continuous pattern of accompaniment and by the invention of a flowing, light, charming and yet emotionally expressive melodic line - an apparently innocent song but for that very reason one of skilful artistry.
'Der Blumen Schmerz' (The Flowers' Anguish) has a completely different importance. The song is a precursor of the two great flower ballads ' Vergissmeinnicht' (Forget-me-not) and ' Viola', written some six years later, settings of poems by his friend Schober [ Naxos 8.557171] and its compositional quality is extremely high. The clarity of the musical themes, their absolute symbiosis with the relevant ideas and imagery of the verse, the building and winding down of dramatic tension from the heavier sighing motifs of the beginning through the 'awakening music' to the tender wedding-march and its collapse up to the final, tenderly urgent, bitter-sweet music of mourning that follows a kind of chorale passage, this all amounts to the most inspired and most original song that Schubert had written up to this point