Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.
Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.
Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.
(If a CD is scheduled for re-issue within the next 3-4 months, the message 'To be reissued on …' will replace the 'Buy Archive CD' button.)
This service offers a production-quality CDR with printed label, inlay (tray) card and, at the minimum, a 2pp booklet (including cover artwork and complete track listing), packaged in a normal jewel case.
In many instances we will provide complete printed booklets, but please note that this is not always the case. Pricing is £13.99 per CD, regardless of the original sale price of the disc(s).
Hymne I D659 Wenige wissen [7'09]
By the end of the summer of 1818 Schubert was looking forward to his return to civilization. Despite the close identification with nature in his music, he was at heart a city-dweller, and an extended period on the Esterhazy estate, with its limited diversions and compensations, was no substitute for being with his friends. On 19 November, ten years to the day before his death, he arrived back in Vienna and moved in directly with the poet Mayrhofer. We do not know whether this had been agreed prior to his departure for Zseliz, or whether it was arranged by correspondence while the composer was away. (In a letter to his friends on 18 September Schubert enclosed a special message for Mayrhofer: ‘My longing for November will hardly be less than yours …’.) In any case, Schubert must have been impatient to play Einsamkeit for his collaborator, and he was no doubt also delighted to be reunited with the rest of his circle.
The single room which the composer shared with the poet was in the Wipplingerstrasse, and the pair remained together until the end of 1820 when Schubert moved into lodgings on his own for the first time in his life. Elizabeth McKay in her recent Franz Schubert – a biography points out that at the end of 1818 Mayrhofer was ill and impecunious (it was before he had taken up a position as an Imperial book censor), and the arrangement suited him financially. Nevertheless it is extraordinary that a man of thirty-one, with a solitary temperament, should have taken under his roof someone ten years younger, particularly in that narrow, dark single room. As McKay admits: ‘It is hard to imagine how they could have lived comparatively happily together for so long in such cramped conditions.’ But there was creative magic in the air between the two of them, and Mayrhofer’s own words, written in 1829, are eloquent:
Both the house and the room have felt the hand of time: the ceiling somewhat sunk, the daylight reduced by a large building opposite, a played-out pianoforte, a narrow bookshelf; such was the room which, together with the hours spent in it, will never be effaced from my memory …
In the same memoir, Mayrhofer goes on to describe Schubert’s character as a ‘mixture of tenderness and coarseness, sensuality and candour, sociability and melancholy’. There is something in Mayrhofer’s tone, a year after Schubert’s death, which suggests that the relationship between composer and poet was more intimate and intense than has been admitted. Of course there is much that can be written off as characteristic of two down-and-out artists sharing an uncomfortably small space: the two men argued and had difficulties over, among other things, money (a fact that merely proves that any close relationship is under strain when poverty is present), but it is true that Schubert’s working schedule of composing in the mornings (between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m.) allowed Mayrhofer to work undisturbed in the afternoons. It could be seen merely as flat-sharing enforced by financial stress, as in La Bohème. And yet questions are raised by the number of texts set by Schubert, mainly in 1817, with homosexual undertones, for example Memnon and Uraniens Flucht, as well as the opera fragment Adrast which was composed when the pair were living together in the Wipplingerstrasse. It seems possible that poet and composer had a passionate relationship before late 1818, and that this intimacy pre-dated the extended period of cohabitation, and did not survive it. By 1821, Schubert needed to move-on in every sense; he had outgrown Mayrhofer’s personal influence, and he needed to feel intellectually and physically free of a protective (and possibly jealous) mentor. It is more than likely that after this phase, he felt the need to experiment with women. That this freedom went to his head (combined with the influence of Franz von Schober who seems to have displaced Mayrhofer as the most powerful influence in the composer’s life – see notes in Volume 28) was one of the main factors that led to his illness at the end of 1822.
The good news awaiting the composer on his return to Vienna was that his other mentor, the singer Johann Vogl, had arranged for him an operatic commission with the Kärntnertor Theatre. This was to compose Die Zwillingsbrüder with the two starring roles of the twin brothers assigned to Vogl who was scheduled to sing at least eight major roles in the 1818/9 season. Despite the composer’s reservations about the libretto (a French-inspired hotchpotch by Georg von Hofmann), this was too great an opportunity to miss, and Schubert began the work in high spirits. The opera was ready by 19 January 1819. Unbelievably, it took only a few weeks; no doubt the work was accomplished so quickly because the composer had counted on a performance some time later in 1819. Schubert even declined the offer to return to Zseliz, hoping that his opera would come up for production during the early summer, or before. No such luck, however: in the event, he had to wait until June 1820.
His music was now being heard in Vienna with fair regularity. The 1816 cantata Prometheus (the most substantial of Schubert’s works to be lost to our century) was repeated in early January, and the song Schäfers Klagelied was performed no fewer than three times on separate occasions. There was also a performance of an Overture (probably that in E minor, D648) on 14 March. Schubert often attended the open orchestral rehearsals held on Thursday evenings in the home of Anton von Pettenkofer. He took part in a performance of Haydn’s Seven Last Words on 6 April. As a result of contacts he made at these occasions, his name was becoming more widely known in the city, and invitations to bring his music to various salons held by important dignitaries and musicians were the satisfying result. A letter to Anselm Hüttenbrenner in May mentions a production of Rossini’s Otello. At this time were made Schubert’s most revealing comments on Italian music, the craze for which was soon seriously to threaten his own operatic progress: ‘You cannot deny [Rossini] extraordinary genius. The orchestration is most original at times, and the vocal parts too occasionally, except for the usual Italian gallopades and several reminiscences of Tancredi.’ Although Schubert returned from Hungary to live with Mayrhofer, and must immediately have been plunged into the poet’s world of learned and cultured enthusiasms, he set only one of the poems in the first half of 1819. He probably felt that with Einsamkeit he had done as much with Mayrhofer’s work as he could for a while. There is a marked change in Schubert’s song writing at this time in terms of his selection of texts. He was no longer interested, it seemed, in ballads and narrative poems; he had passed though his first Goethe phase, and was not to return to that great poet (and then, only for two songs) until the end of the year. He was now largely absorbed in the work of living writers nearer home, whether famous contemporaries living in Vienna, like Schlegel, Silbert and Werner, or friends like Stadler and Schlechta. The majority of these texts contain what might be termed a spiritual element – rarely in a conventional Roman Catholic sense – mostly in terms of alternative theology, in particular the pantheism of the earlier writings of Friedrich von Schlegel. (Volume 27 of the Hyperion Schubert Edition is devoted to settings of the Schlegel brothers.) Apart from two stray Schiller settings, the only eighteenth-century figure is the poet Friedrich von Hardenberg, known as Novalis, a close friend of Schlegel’s youth. It might be argued that the writings of Novalis were more challenging, in a metaphysical sense, than anything else that Schubert tackled. In their use of high-flown allegory (almost Jungian avant la lettre), they remain difficult to fathom to this day; in this sense, Novalis was every bit as much a ‘modern’ poet as any of the others. And yet it is the combination of his ornate allegory with simple devoutness which renders the poet astonishingly immediate to this day. The fact that Schubert was absorbed in philosophical and metaphysical poetry at this time no doubt reflected the interests of Mayrhofer and the ‘Bildung circle’ (as Elizabeth McKay refers to it) – a reading group to which Schubert had belonged since 1814 which met to discuss all manner of philosophy, the latest literature and (the most dangerous of all, as we shall see) politics. It was at these meetings that Schubert, who came from a relatively limited intellectual background, discovered a great amount of literature that was to shape his thinking. It was also natural that he should set some of these poems to music. The song output for the first half of 1819 is the following:
D633: Der Schmetterling (Friedrich von Schlegel) between 1819 and 1823
D634: Die Bege (Friedrich von Schlegel) between 1819 and 1823
D637: Hoffnung (track 3) (Schiller) 1819 (?)
D638: Der Jüngling am Bache [third version (Schiller) April 1819
D645: Abend [fragment] (Tieck) early 1819
D646: Die Gebüsche (Friedrich von Schlegel) January 1819
D649: Der Wandere (Friedrich von Schlegel) February 1819
D650: Abendbilder(Silbert) February 1819
D651: Himmelsfunken(Silbert) February 1819
D652: Das Mädchen (Friedrich von Schlegel) February 1819
D653: Bertas Lied in der Nach (Grillparzer) February1819
D654: An dieFreunde (Mayrhofer) March 1819
D658: Marie I (Novalis) May (?) 1819
D659: Hymne I (Novalis) May 1819
D660: Hymne II(Novalis) May 1819
D661: Hymne III(Novalis) May 1819
D662: Hymne IV(Novalis) May 1819
D663: Der 13.Psalm (trans. Moses Mendelssohn) June1819
Thanks to Vogl’s intervention, Schubert received from the Kärntnertor Theatre an advance payment on his work on Die Zwillingsbrüder, although the performance of it was still almost a year away. This enabled him to plan a summer holiday together with the celebrated singer, who had decided to take an eight-week summer break in Steyr, his birthplace. This break from Vienna probably came at a welcome time for Schubert. Mayrhofer was always moody and intense, and there was another source of irritation in the Wipplingerstrasse. It so happened that Josef Hüttenbrenner, brother of the composer Anselm, had a room in the same building. In the beginning it seemed a good idea that Schubert should have a factotum so close at hand – someone to run errands, deal with copyists, financial matters and so on. Before long this arrangement began to grate on the composer, and Hüttenbrenner turned out to be something of an importunate pest. This information has come down to us through Schubert’s first biographer, Kreissle von Hellborn. It seems that Schubert was increasingly short-tempered with Hüttenbrenner, and spoke to him rudely and harshly. As a result, some of the composer’s circle nicknamed him the ‘The Tyrant’. Here is a side of the composer’s nature that is not often reported, and for those who do not wish to imagine their Schubert limited by saint-like equanimity, it is a welcome antidote to the image of an endlessly gemütlich ‘Schwammerl’ (this nickname meaning ‘Mushroom’ was given to Schubert by some of his friends).
Schubert travelled to Steyr with Vogl in mid-July 1819. Once he had arrived there, he lodged at the home of the Schellmanns, old acquaintances of Vogl’s and relatives of Albert Stadler, one of Schubert’s school friends whose family also happened to live in the same building. This cosy arrangement was supplemented by other happy socializing. The visiting pair of musicians took their meals in the home of Josef von Koller, and Josefine, the daughter of the house, seems to have made a great impression on the composer both because she was pretty and because she was an accomplished singer and pianist. He gave Josefine the manuscript of the Piano Sonata in A (D664) on leaving Steyr. (It was in the Koller household that a three-singer performance of Erlkönig took place; this is described in the notes on that song in Volume 24.) An exceedingly jolly time seems to have been had by all, with afternoon walks through the beautiful countryside, followed by evenings of informal music-making where Schubert was the ever-accommodating accompanist to Vogl, the visiting celebrity and very much Steyr’s favourite son. On this visit Schubert also met Sylvester Paumgartner, a well-to-do bachelor friend of Vogl’s who was a great music-lover, an amateur cellist, and the local patron of the arts. It is largely accepted that the ‘Trout’ Quintet was composed in 1819 as a result of a commission from Paumgartner. Brian Newbould points out that as the parts of the Quintet were copied out in Stadler’s hand, there is a strong possibility that this great work was actually written during the summer holiday rather than, as has usually been assumed, back in Vienna later in the year. There was also time during that August for a short visit to Linz, where Schubert was delighted to catch up with his old friends Josef Kenner (whom he had not seen since 1816) and Josef von Spaun. He also renewed his acquaintance with Anton von Spaun and made a new friend in Anton Ottenwalt who was soon to marry into the Spaun family. Ottenwalt was one of the most sympathetic of all Schubertian contemporaries and was to prove his intuitive understanding of the composer’s personality during Schubert’s return visit to Linz in 1825 (see Introduction in Volume 26). Schubert had the happy opportunity to play Ottenwalt a setting of his words from 1817, Der Knabe in der Wiege, composed before the composer had made the poet’s personal acquaintance.
On 10 August Vogl celebrated his fifty-first birthday, and Stadler wrote a text in praise of the singer which to the modern reader’s eyes borders on sycophancy – yet this is very much in the tradition of the time. Stadler went to a good deal of trouble to incorporate references to the various stage roles in operas by Gluck, Méhul, Gyrowetz, Cherubini and Weigl which the singer had made his own over the years. Schubert provided the music – a trio for soprano, tenor, bass and piano. The composer himself sang the bass line, and Stadler was the pianist. The talented Josefine von Koller was the soprano and the services of one Bernhard Benedict, a local tenor, were also enlisted. (In 1980 I invited the late Eric Crozier to write new English words to this piece for a musical celebration by The Songmakers’ Almanac of the seventieth birthday of Peter Pears; in Crozier’s ingenious re-working, many of that great singer’s operatic roles were referred to in like fashion.) The next March, as part of what seemed to be an established tradition, Schubert provided a song for Josef von Koller’s name day, Namentagslied. Once again Stadler was the poet and pianist; the singer, not unnaturally, was Josefine von Koller. Of course, in March 1820 Schubert himself was not able to be in Steyr for the first performance.
One of the most unusual of all Schubertian documents is the one surviving letter that Schubert wrote to Mayrhofer from Linz. It is notable that there are none of the mentions of pretty girls giving him ‘plenty to do’ which Schubert wrote to his brother Ferdinand, a letter certainly designed to be read by the rest of his family, including his parents. Instead, there is a broad outline of the holiday events and a mention of a planned excursion to Salzburg which never took place. Then the enigmatic phrase ‘How I look forward to …’; is this a slip of the pen, or something that cannot be written down for others to see? Immediately following this phrase Schubert makes a request to Mayrhofer to allow one Philipp Kahl, a student from Kremsmünster who will be passing through Vienna on his way to visit his parents in Idria, to use the composer’s bed in his absence. (‘Altogether, I hope you will look after him in a friendly manner.’) Knowing how reclusive Mayrhofer was, and how cramped the living conditions, this seems a curious request to make on behalf of a perfect stranger. Maynard Solomon in his provocative essay Schubert and the peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini interprets this within the context of a homosexual sub-culture. We know nothing about Kahl other than the likelihood that he did indeed make Mayrhofer’s acquaintance in Vienna; his name is on the subscribers list to the published edition of Mayrhofer’s poems in 1824. Solomon believes that it is likely that Schubert was setting up an opportunity for Mayrhofer to meet another sympathetic and sexually compatible young man. If this is so, Schubert’s behaviour certainly qualifies for Mayrhofer’s description of ‘tenderness and coarseness, sensuality and candour’. It would also show us that he was not in any sense possessively in love with Mayrhofer, and that whatever had happened between them was, on Schubert’s side at least, more light-hearted. Indeed he might have already hoped that another relationship for Mayrhofer would lessen the intensity directed towards him. That the poet’s own feelings ran deeper than Schubert’s, in the often sadly inevitable manner of older man for younger, also seems likely.
The mystery of the Mayrhofer-Schubert friendship and collaboration deepens with the composer’s return to Vienna in mid-September. Mayrhofer was now to be Schubert’s librettist for the first time since the Singspiel Die Freunde von Salamanka in 1815, and we catch a whiff of the composer’s impatience in the letter referred to above when Schubert writes, rather cryptically, ‘Have you done anything yet? I hope so’. The new opera was named Adrast and was derived from an episode described at the beginning of Herodotus’s Histories. This concerns the story of Adrastus and Atys (not the same Atys as Mayrhofer’s song) which has at its heart the story of the love of an older man for a younger. (The commentary to Die Liebe hat gelogen in Volume 28 mentions that Adrast was also the nickname given by the poet August von Platen to the young officer in Würzburg who was the obsessive object of his affections.) Brian Newbould raises the most pertinent point about this opera: ‘Why, having begun Adrast so auspiciously, inventing by far his most promising operatic music to date, [Schubert] should have abandoned it is not known. No surviving document from Schubert’s lifetime makes reference to the work by name. [Why not, one wonders?] In an obituary notice by Leopold Sonnleithner it was simply listed as an unfinished work. But it was a substantial fragment, amounting to something like fifty minutes of music, and it probably occupied him into the early weeks of 1820.’
Of course we only know the plot of Adrast as far as Schubert composed it, although there are extant copies of at least part of the libretto. Is it possible that the two collaborators fell out about it, or that the composer was disinclined to continue with the direction of the piece as Mayrhofer envisaged it? Was the very subject-matter of the work something of an embarrassment? Elizabeth McKay, in her study of the Schubert operas notes that ‘something in the text, as Adrast urges Atys to confide his cares or sorrows in him, caught Schubert’s imagination here, and he was inspired to write a very moving passage free of the conventionality often apparent in even the best music in his early operatic works’. Did someone warn Schubert that such a piece, free of conventionality, where some of the most beautiful music was for tenor and baritone duet, would be harmful to his reputation? In any case, there are few Schubertian works of this calibre which have sunk without trace in such a curiously muffled manner.
Apart from this opera, the rest of 1819 gave us seven songs. This is not a huge number, but the list contains a number of masterpieces. There are four substantial Mayrhofer settings, as well as two Goethe songs (including the important Prometheus) and perhaps the composer’s single most beautiful Schiller setting, Die Götter Griechenlands. The classical subject-matter of these two songs surely shows the continuing influence of Mayrhofer. The songs of the second half of 1819 are:
D669: BeimWinde (Mayrhofer) October 1819
D670: Die Sternennäche (Mayrhofer) October 1819
D671: Trost(Mayrhofer) October 1819
D672: Nachtstück (Mayrhofer) October 1819
D673: Die Liebende schreibt(Goethe) October 1819
D674: Prometheus (Goethe) October 1819
D677: Die Götter Griechenland (Schiller) November 1819
It is notable that once Schubert was working with Mayrhofer as a librettist, he returned to setting song texts by that poet. We see a similar pattern in 1821/2 when the opera Alfonso und Estrella was being written and Schubert wrote a number of songs to poems by its librettist, Franz von Schober.
Early in 1820 Schubert set Adrast aside (for whatever reason) and began work on one of his most revolutionary and experimental works. This was the cantata Lazarus, a work which was meant to be in three ‘acts’, of which only two were completed (although the end of the second act is lost). It is only in recent years that the full worth of this astonishing piece is coming to be recognized. It unfolds magisterially with a quiet and dignified grandeur which can only be compared to Wagner’s use of arioso forty years later: the borderline between recitative and melody is a fluid one where speech rhythms melt imperceptibly into the most beautiful Schubertian melody, and back once again into accompanied recitative. As in Adrast, the use of the orchestra is especially innovative. The work, to a poem written in 1778 by August Hermann Niemeyer, was meant to be composed in time for Easter 1820 for a church where the composer’s brother Ferdinand was musical director. But this time even Schubert, with his astonishing ability to compose at speed, was not able to deliver the work in time. Lazarus was laid aside, never to be resurrected; when this was the fate of one of Schubert’s works, he seldom returned to it.
Few of the documents from 1820 have come down to us to help in piecing together the details of Schubert’s personal life. Of those that have the most important concerns the composer’s one and only brush with the repressive authorities of Metternich’s regime and its notorious head of police, Count Josef Sedlnitsky. In 1819, the arch-conservative playwright August von Kotzebue was assassinated by a radical student in Mannheim, and this made alarm bells ring throughout Europe. Not for the first time since the defeat of Napoleon, young intellectuals and artists were cast in the role of potential villains and insurrectionists, and a number of decrees were hurriedly passed in Karlsbad which specifically sought to suppress student intellectual activity in German-speaking lands. The incident in which this new policy brushed the life of our composer involved the poet Johann Senn who was, it seems, by far the most politically active member of the Schubert circle. He was also one of the most idealistic and astute of Schubert’s school friends, but luck ran out for him in the second or third week of March 1820. Senn had blotted his copybook with the authorities by speaking up in support of a student colleague who had been under suspicion of sedition in 1813. The poet’s movements had been monitored by the secret police and in March 1820 they raided his rooms in the early hours of the morning. It so happened that he was not alone; with him, after a night of jollification, were Johann von Streinsberg and, as luck would have it, Franz Schubert. Two more members of the circle then arrived (one of them was Franz von Bruchmann) and there was a certain amount of drunken altercation with the uninvited intruders. The following was a report from the High Commissioner, Ferstl:
Concerning the stubborn and insulting behaviour evinced by Johann Senn, native of Pfunds in the Tyrol, on being arrested as one of the Student’s Association on the occasion of the examination and confiscation of his papers carried out by regulation in his lodgings, during which he used the expressions, among others, that he ‘did not care a hang about the police’, and further that ‘the Government was too stupid to be able to penetrate into his secrets’. It is also said that his friends, who were present, Schubert, the school assistant from the Rossau district, and the law student Streinsberg, as also the students who joined later … chimed in against the authorized official in the same tone, inveighing against him with insulting and opprobrious language. The High Commissioner of Police reports this officially, in order that the excessive and reprehensible behaviour of the aforesaid may be suitably punished.
It is significant that when confronted by the authorities, Schubert hid behind his former (and respectable) employment as a school assistant, almost certainly in order to appear an innocuous minor member of the Establishment. As the composer’s name stands on the bottom of the list of offenders made by the police commissioner, it seems he had taken a less aggressive stance with the police and was considered less dangerous than the others. Nevertheless he no doubt had to spend a number of most uncomfortable hours being questioned and reprimanded; it is also possible that his father was informed of the incident. That night (or, rather, early morning) was the last time that Schubert saw Johann Senn. (Bruchmann was the only member of the circle to visit him in exile some years later.) Senn was detained for fourteen months during an extended trial and was thereafter deported back to the Tyrol, all his career prospects destroyed. In fact his enforced departure from Vienna led to what was, in effect, a ruined life. There is more background to this unfortunate incident and Schubert’s long-term reaction to it in the commentary for the Senn setting Selige Welt in Volume 28.
Although we know this altercation took place in March, and that Schubert was shaken by the experience, this month was among the busiest in his song-writing catalogue. The following is the list for the first three months of 1820 (beginning with four works which are dated only with the year; they could of course have been written any time in 1820). The list includes a Mayrhofer fragment, Schubert’s only settings of Uhland and Werner, the inspired culmination of his handful of Novalis works, and no fewer than five songs from Friedrich von Schlegel’s Abendröte. The simplicity of the Italian settings was not merely a concession to the Viennese passion for music of this kind; they were composed for Franziska Roner, the fiancée (and later wife) of Josef von Spaun, and they seem to have been written with affectionate consideration for someone who was a promising singer, if not yet a virtuoso. The circumstances of the composition of the Stadler Namentagslied are mentioned in the paragraph above concerning the 1819 holiday in Steyr.
D682: Über allen Zauber Liebe [fragment] (Mayrhofer) between 1820 and 1824
D684: Die Sterne (Friedrich von Schlegel) 1820
D685: Morgenlied(Werner) 1820
D686: Frühlingsglaube(Uhland) September (?) 1820
D687: Nachthymne(Novalis) January 1820
D688: Vier Canzonen (Vittorelli I & II and Metastasio III & IV) January 1820
I: Non t’accostar all’urna
II: Guarda, che bianca luna
III: Da quel sembiante appresi
IV: Mio ben ricordati
D691: Die Vögel (Friedrich von Schlegel) March 1820
D692: Der Knabe (Friedrich von Schlegel) March 1820
D693: Der Fluss (Friedrich von Schlegel) March 1820
D694: Der Schiffer (Friedrich von Schlegel) March 1820
D695: Namentagslied (Stadler) 19 March 1820
The next important milestone in Schubert’s career was the long-delayed premiere at the Kärntnertor Theatre of the Singspiel (billed as a ‘Posse’ – literally ‘farce’) that Schubert had written for Vogl some eighteen months earlier, Die Zwillingsbrüder. This took place on 14 June with Vogl in the double starring roles of Franz and Friedrich Spiess. The unusual thing about this first night was that the composer sat in the gallery and declined to take a bow at the end. Vogl had to appear and make a speech to the audience: “Schubert is not present; I thank you in his name.” This was by far the most important public event to date in the composer’s career (there were press notices from as far afield as Dresden and Leipzig) and yet he side-stepped the moment of public celebrity that might have been his. On one hand this reticence seems to have been one of Schubert’s endearing characteristics; on the other, this cavalier and careless attitude to what would nowadays be termed ‘networking’ or ‘career management’ disappointed many of the people who wished the composer well and wanted to see him get on in the world. From time to time he seems to have tried hard to be a better businessman; this seems usually to have been triggered by a financial crisis of some kind. Nevertheless, it seems to have been characteristic of Schubert that once he had written a piece he was happy enough to allow it to make its own way in the world without his further help. Perhaps he was too busy thinking of the next opera.
He did not have to wait long. No matter how patronizing some of the reactions to Die Zwillingsbrüder (‘the work of a beginner’ and so on) there was no doubt that Schubert’s achievement had been impressive – and, above all, he had delivered the work well in time. This was a composer on whom operatic managements could rely, it seemed. Accordingly, with a little bit of behind-the-scenes lobbying by Schubert supporters (including Neefe, the son of Beethoven’s composition teacher in Bonn), the composer was invited to set a second Georg von Hofmann libretto, Die Zauberharfe. The storyline is even more risible than Die Zwillingsbrüder, but Schubert took it on because his main ambition at this time was to become a well-known operatic composer. There is some disagreement about how quickly he composed the score; ‘a few weeks’ according to Sonnleithner, much longer in the opinion of Brian Newbould who points to the complexity and length of the score, one of the most substantial volumes in the Gesamtausgabe. There were eight performances at the prestigious and beautiful Theater an der Wien between 19 August and 12 October, and once again the new Schubert piece received a great amount of critical interest. The play, as such, was roundly condemned, and opinions were divided about the music. On the whole, however, the composer had every reason to feel encouraged. In the space of a few months he had had two operatic works performed at major Viennese houses and as a result his reputation had advanced incalculably. If he could now find a good libretto it should be easy for him to break through into an important new phase in his career. In October 1820 he embarked on yet another operatic venture, Sakuntala, based on a play by J P Neumann which had, in turn, been based on a fifth-century Sanskrit poem. Two acts were sketched and the idea was then abandoned. (Sadly, Brahms did not see fit to publish these fragments in the old Gesamtausgabe.)
In every respect this year seemed to be the prologue to a distinguished career as a composer of operas. And for those who are unacquainted with the operatic work accomplished in this sphere in 1820 (and few of us could claim, with the shortage of recordings and live performances, to know it well) we have to emphasize on what striking form the composer found himself in such works as Adrast, Lazarus and Die Zauberharfe. The beauty and sheer inventiveness of much of this music, lost to us because buried in works which are difficult to mount in their entirety, show us a young man at the height of his powers. And if we need confirmation of this there is evidence enough in the songs themselves. It is true that, in 1820 in particular, songwriting receded somewhat into the background and the composer took an unprecedented six months off song composition in order to concentrate on other things. But a glance at the short list of Lieder written in the last four months of the year show the breadth and diversity of Schubert’s visionary powers as he returned to song with a renewed vigour:
D639: Widerschein (Schlechta) September (?) 1820
D698: Liebeslauschen [Des Fräuleins Liebeslauschen] (Schlechta) September 1820
D699: Der entsühnte Ores (Mayrhofer) September 1820
D700: Freiwilliges Versinken (Mayrhofer) September 1820
D702: Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel(Heinrich Hüttenbrenner) November 1820
D707: Der zürnenden Diana (Mayrhofer) December 1820
D708: Im Walde [Waldesnacht] (Friedrich von Schlegel) December 1820
The work of friends was not forgotten, and Schubert continued to encourage the poetic efforts of his own circle. The two Schlechta settings, the first since 1816, are as charmingly melodious as anything he ever wrote; Der Jüngling auf dem Hügel makes of Heinrich Hüttenbrenner’s undistinguished poem an effective narrative, if not the best thing Schubert had ever done. The Mayrhofer settings show a return to the classical enthusiasm of 1817 (Freiwilliges Versinken and Der zürnenden Diana are both mighty songs, with a breadth of canvas which betokens an experienced composer of much larger works). Im Walde (Waldesnacht) is Schubert’s most extended Schlegel setting and one of his most exciting songs – a tremendous discovery for those who imagine this composer to have been limited to the creation of exquisite miniatures. At the end of 1820 miniatures were the last things on Schubert’s mind. It is true that he was sometimes having trouble finishing works on a larger scale, but this applied to other things besides unrealistic operatic projects: one of the greatest of his pieces for string quartet was begun in December 1820 – the inspired but solitary Quartetsatz in C minor, D703. There is no earthly reason why Schubert should not have been proud enough of this masterpiece to continue with it. It is almost as if his powers were developing so fast that he was tempted hither and thither by any number of ambitious and challenging ideas.
The answer to where Schubert was going as an artist surely lay just around the corner and he, and those who believed in him, had every reason to suppose that 1821 was going to be his best year so far. In some ways, particularly in the writing of songs, it fulfilled its promise (in quality, if not quantity); moreover it marked the beginnings of Schubert the published composer of Lieder, with a great deal of attention from the press, some of it glowingly enthusiastic for the first time. But there were gathering clouds on the horizon, particularly as regards the fate of German opera composers in an increasingly Italian-dominated market.
The end of 1820 marks a natural break in Schubert’s life. It might be said that it was the end of his youth. He moved away from Mayrhofer who had been his intellectual mentor, and staked his claim for a new independence, living for the first time on his own and being accountable for his movements to no one else. The increasing importance of Franz von Schober in the composer’s circle also meant that the magisterial influence of Vogl was somewhat on the wane. The marriage of Therese Grob, his childhood sweetheart, was symbolic of the end of his adolescence. Here was the beginning of a certain unruly and liberated Schubert, a man/boy of tremendously powerful inner passions who had had a very strict upbringing and very little privacy. He only needed a little encouragement to take full advantage of the mondaine world of burning sensuality which was nineteenth-century Vienna. Up until this time the impression is of intense and confidential friendships, but now we see the beginning of Schubert the profligate and promiscuous. He could now share his bed with anyone he chose; no longer did he need to ask Mayrhofer’s permission to give a stranger his bed for the night. And the chances are that the Greek-style relationship of an Adrastus and Atys, transfigured by Mayrhofer under the influence of the high-minded writings of Plato, was replaced by something much less rarefied. It is surely likely that here began Schubert’s sexual experiments with women, a strongly heterosexual, or perhaps polysexual, phase. Whatever he actually did with his private life in 1821, there is evidence that he profoundly shocked a number of his old friends. The years 1821/2 (see the Introduction to Volume 28) were to contain much great music, but they were also to contain the seeds of tragedy.
Graham Johnson © 1997