Sunday, January 25, 2015

Schubert - Three Songs, Opus 4

Schubert had an exceptional drive to compose at every possible opportunity, almost an obsession for writing music. Schubert said himself that:

I compose every morning, and when one piece is done, I begin another.  

Despite the few years of life he had, he developed his talent to a remarkable degree.  When Franz Schubert died in Vienna in 1828 even his close friends had no idea of how much music he had written. He wrote in almost every musical genre of his day,  and it wasn't until the last few years of his life that his works were beginning to be published. It wasn't until 1951 when research done by Otto Erich Deutsch resulted in the publication of a comprehensive catalog of Schubert works that the tremendous number of Schubert works were known.

During his lifetime Schubert was known for his songs; it is the genre that he wrote the most in with over 600 songs to his credit.  His songs were the first compositions to be published, beginning in 1821 with his setting of Goethe's poem Der Erlkönig. The three songs of opus 4 were published in 1822 and included Der Wanderer (1816) , Morgenlied (1820), and Wandrers Nachtlied I (1815). 

The Wanderer, D. 489 -  Schubert had a genius for being able to read a poem and setting it to music. Sometimes the poems he set were of the highest quality by poets such as Goethe, but he was adept at making the most of any poem that set his musical imagination to composition. The poem Der Wanderer was written by  Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck who was something of a Renaissance man. He was born to an old merchant family, studied law, medicine, was an astute business man and politician.  He was also a man of letters who wrote on historical subjects as well as poetry. By the time Schubert wrote this song he had written over 300 songs as well as numerous cantatas for solo voices and choirs ans well as part songs with piano accompaniment. He used the experience of writing all of these vocal works and no doubt his experience of listening to opera and created a song with operatic overtones and a concentrated opera aria structure. It was one of Schubert's most popular songs in his lifetime and still resonates with audiences today.

Georg Philipp Schmidt von Lübeck
The Wanderer
I come down from the mountains,
The valley fills with mist, the sea roars.
I wander silently and  unhappily,
And my sighs always ask "Where?"

The sun seems so cold to me here,
The flowers dead, life old,
And what they say has an empty sound;
I am a stranger everywhere.

Where are you, my dear land?
Sought and brought to mind, yet never known,
That land, so hopefully green,
That land, where my roses bloom,

Where my friends wander.
Where the dead ones rise from the dead,
That land where they speak my language,
Oh land, where are you?

I wander silently and unhappily,
And my sighs always ask "Where?"
In a ghostly breath it calls back to me,
"Where you are not, there is happiness."

Morning Song D. 685 -  A man of many accomplishments, Zacharias Werner studied law, was appointed a government post for tow years until he resigned and traveled widely. He became acquainted with Goethe and other literary artists while traveling, and while in Rome converted to Roman Catholicism and was consecrated a priest.  He was also a playwright, and Schubert got the poem from Werner’s play The Sons of the Valley. This song was also popular in Schubert's time, but it doesn't age very well, at least the lyrics.

Morning Song
Before the sun rises early,
When from the sea mist
The morning breeze wafts up and down,
When dawn, armed with it shining spear, leads forward,
Little birds flutter here and there,
Zacharias Werner
Sing joyfully in all directions
A song, a jubilant song.

"What so delights all you birds,
So happy in the warming rays of the sun?"
"We are happy that we live and exist,
And that we are companions of the air,
According to time-honoured custom
we flutter joyfully through the bushes,
Wafted about by the lovely morning breeze,
Whose caress is also enjoyed by the sun."

"Why do you little birds sit so silent and crouched down
In your mossy nests on the roof?"
"We sit because the sun no longer takes notice of us,
Night has already been enveloped by the waves,
The moon alone, the lovely light,
The sun’s lovely reflection
Does not leave us in darkness,
Wherefore we rejoice quietly."

O youth, cool morningtide,
Where we, our hearts wide open,
With senses quick and waking
Delight in the freshness of life,
Now you have fled!
We old ones sit alone crouching in our nest,
But the lovely reflection of our youthful days,
Where we delighted in early dawn,
Johann Goethe
Never leaves us even in old age,
But fills us with the quiet, joy of the senses.

Wanderer's Nightsong I,  D. 224 -  Schubert chose a poem written in 1776 by the ultimate German poet Johann Goethe. Goethe wrote two poems named Wanderer's Night Song, this one is the first. Schubert also set the second poem to music.  Schubert achieves a calmness and beauty in this short song that is remarkable considering he was only eighteen when he wrote it.

Wanderer's Night Song I 
You who are from heaven,
who eases all pain and sorrow,
and the doubly wretched
you fill with doubly with fresh vigor.
Ah, I'm tired of restless life!
For what is all this pain and joy?
Sweet peace,
come, ah, come into my breast!

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