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This is the third and last of three recitals in this series devoted to the songs of 1816. Since the start of The Hyperion Schubert Edition we have broadened the scope of the project to include all the part-songs with piano, a number of the unaccompanied choral works that are relevant to the main body of the lieder, and the considerable number of fragments that throw further light on Schubert’s output. This makes the Schubert Edition the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of this composer’s piano-accompanied vocal music.
The documentation accompanying the series—much of it now available on the internet—required more tome- and time-consuming diligence than is normally associated with the post-production process of song-recital records; and it can only be written after editing is complete and the programme order determined. The preparation of these notes has been a constant task in my life for more than a decade and, at times, my obligations as a performing artist have impeded my productivity as a writer. The quiet concentration needed for this work is not to be found amidst the tense exigencies of concert life. These factors, as well as the inevitable timetable difficulties in pinning down international artists to recording sessions, have made our task more protracted than we first thought. For the listener, impatient to complete his collection of Schubert songs, the good news is that the end is in now sight. At the time of writing, all the material will be, at last, ‘in the can’ and scheduled for issue over the next eighteen months or so.
Each of the volumes in the series has had a raison d’être—either thematic or chronological. From the beginning, this mixed approach seemed to be the only way to go forward. It might have been possible to plan a chronological survey, placing all the songs of the early years together, and leaving the masterpieces to the end. But for reasons of marketability this would have been disastrous, as well as boring for the consumer who would have had to wait too long to hear songs typical of Schubert at his greatest. At the core of the series there have been themed discs which have roamed across the whole range of Schubert’s lieder; these have been a crucial, and regular, counterbalance to the chronological surveys which have been geared to give some sense of Schubert’s development as a composer.
In addition to the present disc five further volumes, Schubertiads of different sizes, are projected to complete the series. Of these, Volumes 36 and 37 will have small solo casts of three singers each, whereas Volumes 33 to 35 will (like Vol 32) feature a larger number of singers drawn from the history of the Schubert Edition. They will include material from three sources: first, songs specially recorded by artists who have already taken part and who return to the microphone in the spirit of a farewell party as the series comes to its end; secondly, the contribution of a handful of singers too young to have participated earlier in the series but whose presence here is a signpost to the future of British lieder singing; and thirdly, the issue of material held back from previous issues (in some cases for a number of years) precisely for the purpose of a later appearance at this stage of the series. (The maximum length of a CD, some 78 minutes, has meant that many fine performances initially scheduled for immediate release have been held in the Hyperion archive until now.)
It should be noted that songs on these final discs include some of the very greatest (for example, all the Rückert settings, Lachen und Weinen, Du bist die Ruh, Greisengesang, Sei mir gegrüsst, and so on). We have taken care that the last discs in the series are not made up merely of fill-ins and unimportant material. On the other hand, it has never been our remit to select only the best of Schubert songs: we must find a place for each and very one of them. For this reason many of the discs throughout the series contain music that is not the greatest Schubert. This is the price to be paid for a complete edition. But everything by Schubert seems to me to be interesting in some way or another, having come from the pen of a composer of incomparable genius. And a large number of listeners, not at first inclined to explore beyond the acknowledged masterpieces, have also come to this conclusion.
Whereas the programming of the series may have seemed haphazard in the chronological sense, the aim has been to make each programme as interesting as possible as far as repertoire for a selected singer, or group of singers, is concerned.
This is the third and last of three recitals in the series devoted exclusively to the songs of 1816. The notes accompanying the first of these, the disc by the late Lucia Popp (Vol 17), contained an outline of the documentary information we have for that year. The listener is referred to that essay which attempts to place the songs of 1816 in the context of the surprisingly few details we have of the composer’s day-to-day life. It was a watershed year for Schubert in a number of ways, with a lot of growing-up to be done in the middle of (as always) a great amount of musical work. Several major events stand out: the unsuccessful application for a job in Laibach (in Slovenia) which would have taken Schubert away from Vienna; Josef von Spaun’s unsuccessful attempt to contact Goethe to obtain his support for an ambitious (and never realized) project concerning the publication of the songs; and, towards the end of the year, a threefold parting of the ways—from Therese Grob (the love of the composer’s adolescence), Antonio Salieri (his teacher for a number of years), and, perhaps most significantly, from the composer’s own family. The nineteen-year-old Franz (soon to be twenty) moved out of his father’s school and into the apartment of Franz von Schober. Everything points to a fast-maturing adolescent’s need for independence.
1816 has received rather little publicity as a great song year; it can boast of neither Gretchen am Spinnrade nor Erlkönig which have made 1814 and 1815 so famous in the song calendar. Yet the achievements of 1816 are no less remarkable, particularly in the rather unfashionable field of strophic song which is undervalued today in the light of later more complex through-composed masterpieces. After hearing the two famous Goethe settings named above, which sweep the listener away in torrents of word and tone, one can all too easily forget that Schubert is also revered for his open-hearted simplicity, his economy of means, his clarity and purity, his deference to the poets—all qualities more shy and introverted than those dramatic gifts which announced his arrival to the general public but which have nevertheless kept him in their minds and hearts. It is interesting that this change to a more reflective, less demonstrative mood in Schubert’s output exactly mirrors the politically conservative mood of the time in Europe. There was neither the brilliant Congress of Vienna (as in 1814), nor the cliff-hanging excitement of Napoleon’s return from Elba and his final rout at Waterloo (1815). Instead, Metternich was set on ensuring that nothing like the French Revolution could ever happen in Austria. The police-state instruments of repression were all in place. The days of drama were over, at least for the time being, and it seems that something in Schubert’s creative personality responded litmus-like to the spirit of the time; Sturm und Drang is succeeded by calme and, if one knows how to listen for it, the luxe et volupté of a young man dreaming of love and a rosy future. This was a transitional period before the bolder musical experiments of 1819 and 1820 which closer friendship with Mayrhofer, and the composer’s own fast-developing powers, would bring about.
For those without the ears to value this quieter and even old-fashioned side of the composer, 1816 must seem a step backwards after the glories of 1815. But in reality it was a time of consolidation when Schubert’s literary knowledge was broadened to include some of the greatest German literature—much of it not contemporary—available to a budding song-composer. Salis-Seewis is a newcomer for the year and a very welcome one; some of Schubert’s most exquisite miniatures were by this poet. August von Schlegel also makes a first appearance, two years before his brother Friedrich. Jacobi is a poet who belongs to the summer of 1816 alone, as does Uz (both inspired some fine songs), and Claudius is largely, though not exclusively, an 1816 poet in Schubert’s output. Settings of Matthisson, Hölty and Stolberg (and of Goethe and Schiller, of course) continue through the year. We should not forget that the Goethe setting An Schwager Kronos (volume 24) is an 1816 work, and in this we hear something of the same thundering conviction of Erlkönig (volumes 8 and 24). A sign of Schubert’s increasing awareness of the social ramifications of his Viennese milieu is his nod in the direction of the poetry of Karoline Pichler and the brothers Heinrich and Matthäus von Collin. Pichler was a celebrated Viennese social lion, and Matthäus von Collin, perhaps touched by Schubert’s Leiden der Trennung (December 1816, to a poem by his dead brother Heinrich), was to play an important part as a link between the composer and the Schlegel circle. In this period, between the dissolution of the old school circle and the establishment of that group of adult friends who were to constitute the audience of the later Schubertiads, it is notable that there are no settings by the likes of the composer’s fellow-students Kenner and Stadler, and only a couple of songs by rather more gifted dilettantes like Schober and Schlechta. Once the pattern of his life independent from his family was finally established, Schubert was often to favour some of the poets from his own circle with much greater attention, partially because he was fond of them. But on the whole, 1816 is remarkably free of poetry by the composer’s young contemporaries. The war hero Theodor Körner, whose lyrics were such an important part of the 1815 output, is represented only by a fragment (Das war ich), a melodic line of six bars which has been amplified and completed for inclusion on this disc. An exception to this exile of the amateurs is Johann Mayrhofer who was substantially more gifted than all the rest – and we must give Schubert credit for realizing this. Although the composer had known the poet since 1814 (and had set one of his poems at that time) the first substantial Mayrhofer settings date from 1816.
Graham Johnson © 1999