SCHUBERT: Lied Edition 9 - Friends, Vol. 1 (Jens Fuhr/ Markus Eiche) (Naxos: 8.554799)
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Franz Peter Schubert (1797-1828)
Settings of poems by Schuberts friends, Vol. 1Utopia and World-Weariness
The poetic horizon of Franz Schubert and his songs is reflected again in the poems of his circle of friends. Altogether Schubert set even more poems by his friends than he did those of Goethe or Schiller, by far the most distinguished poets. More than two thirds of these texts come from his closest friends, Johann Mayrhofer and Franz von Schober. While Mayrhofer, with about fifty settings, comes in third place after the two great classical German poets, Schober, with eighteen compositions, thirteen of them songs, stands on a par with Friedrich Schlegel, the leader of the German romantics. These quantitative comparisons are evidence of the essential quality of Schuberts poetic creed: the songs on texts by his friends combine the idealistic feeling of the classical with the Utopian longing of the romantic. The echo of a better world (besseren Welt) resounds particularly in Schobers poems, yet under conditions of pessimism. The poetry of Schuberts circle was not only under the influence of classical-romantic cultural inspiration, but showed in particular the symptoms of world-weariness spreading throughout Europe about 1820.
This late romantic phenomenon, that associates the poems of the circle with those of Heinrich Heine and Wilhelm Müller, has deep roots in contemporary history. Schubert and his friends were witnesses and victims of a period of systematic suppression of idealist endeavour. After the end of the Napoleonic wars the European powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1814 and 1815 determined on the restoration of absolutist government. The Carlsbad Decrees of 1819 had finally resulted in the repression of movements towards freedom. The revolutionary ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity appeared no longer attainable. The consequent dreary reality of life plunged Schuberts generation into an existential crisis. Yet Schuberts circle of friends returned to a Tugendbund (League of Virtue), which, after the model of the poetic leagues of eighteenth-century friendship, paid homage to virtue and country in the service of a humanistic conception of man. Seminal to this circle was the Vienna Stadtkonvikt, a boarding-school for grammar-school boys, students and court chapel choristers. Schubert was at the school from 1808 until 1813 as a choirboy. Schober too, with whom Schubert later lived together for several years, had, while a student at Vienna University, moved in the same milieu. Schubert gathered there not only a practical knowledge of musical performance and of repertoire, but in productive exchange with his friends also acquired a literary stimulus towards the composition of songs. The creative relations with amateurs of the arts and cultivated men such as Josef von Spaun, Josef Kenner, Johann Senn or Albert Stadler enabled Schubert in this elite institution, in which he seemed a prisoner, to share the aesthetic experience of cultural freedom.
In the 1820s the Schubert circle took its form not only in the famous Schubertiads, as those that Moritz von Schwind has handed down in idealised form in his picture A Schubert Evening at Josef von Spauns. It also met in a Reading Society inspired by Schober. Here Schubert could become aware of the poems of Heine and Wilhelm Müller. Through political publications and contacts with student societies the circle often found itself in conflict with the authorities.
While most of the friends accepted the yoke of government service, Schober, like Schubert, sought to be a free creative artist. Schober dabbled as a writer, an artist and an actor. After Schuberts death he was a travelling companion of Franz Liszt. As a diplomatic counsellor in Weimar in 1854 he saw, together with Liszt, to the first performance of Schuberts opera Alfonso und Estrella, the libretto of which he had written himself. Literary success, however, was only granted to Bauernfeld, not as a lyric poet but as a writer of comedies. For the others social cultural activities were a liberal refuge, an island of the blest in the police state of the Austrian Chancellor Metternich, known as the Fürst von Mitternacht (Prince of Midnight). Yet the hope itself that the longed for better world would at least be realised in art, proved an illusion. The songs brought together in the present recording document the total character of this disillusionment. The characteristic of the poems of Schuberts friends is their fragile idealism, which appears particularly in their imitative quality. The character of resignation in the 1822 song Schatzgräbers Begehr, D761, (Treasure-Seekers Desire) can be seen from a comparison with Goethes motivically related poem Der Schatzgräber, which Schubert had set in 1815. Schobers sonnet seems a negative inversion of Goethes optimistic poem. Trinke Mut des reinen Lebens! (Drink courage of pure life!) is what Goethe has to say. Schobers treasure-seeker on the contrary buries his hope. Musically this is expressed particularly in a lament bass, a chromatically descending bass line, which often returns. This well known pattern from the musical rhetoric of the seventeenth century is not alone in giving expressive character to the song, but seems also to depict the laborious digging. The change to the major after a concise central section proves fragile: in the autograph Schubert suddenly changes the chord in the penultimate bar to minor, and here too in the later second version, without a change to the minor, the song ends with an empty fifth.
In similar fashion Schobers ballade Schiffers Scheidelied, D910, (The Sailors Farewell) recalls motivically the great example of Goethe. Here too there is preparation for departure. While the seaman in Goethes Sturm-und-Drang hymn Seefahrt (Voyage) trusts his Gods, in shipwreck or on land (scheiternd oder landend, seinen Göttern), Schobers sailor is afraid of the sea: Do I know whether I shall succeed / and return home victorious? / The wave that sings now luring me on / is perhaps the very one that will swallow me (Weiss ich denn, ob ichs vollbringe / Und siegreich kehre heimatwärts? / Die Welle jetzt so lockend singt, / Vielleicht ists dieselbe, die mich verschlingt). Consolation (Trost) for him means only the friend in the paradise of home (Freund im heimischen Paradies). It seems that the age-old notion of the crossing as a motif of salvation in the period before 1848 that stood for the expectation of a new, better time, meant clearly that the leagues of friends in Schuberts milieu had lost much of that heroic-idealistic feeling, as expressed in Schillers ballade Die Bürgschaft, set by Schubert more than ten years before. Friendship had become much more a last refuge and had taken, in a form of paradise, the character of a pseudo-religion. So far it must also be no surprise that the compositions of February 1827 have a direct connection with Schuberts moving in with Schober, who, in his new place, put two rooms and a music-room at his disposal. Although Schubert had never himself experienced the elemental force of the sea, his setting captured it with direct pictorial strength. The two quieter passages modulating to the major form no particular contrast; in spite of the now calmer movement of the accompaniment there remains an underlying trembling. The more lyrical line of this passage returns finally in the last of the five passages:
And if then the false wave washes / Me up dead again on the flower-strewn shore, / So shall I know that in that dear place / There is still one