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Track(s) taken from CDJ33036

Schiffers Scheidelied, D910

First line:
Die Wogen am Gestade schwellen
February 1827; first published in 1833 as part of volume 24 of the Nachlass
author of text

Gerald Finley (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: January 1999
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: July 2000
Total duration: 6 minutes 35 seconds


'Superb … Wonderfully fluent, confident singing from Finley, soft-grained intimacy from Banse … a delight' (Gramophone)

'Elegant performances' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The high standard of the singing is one of the persistent glories of the Hyperion series. This disc is a source of pleasure in its own right and could serve as your introduction to a series in which delight is never likely to run dry' (Sydney Morning Herald)
In his Schubert: a Biographical study of his Songs, Fischer-Dieskau avers that this was one of the works performed by Schubert and Vogl at the gathering for Hummel at the home of Frau von Laczny. Hiller’s report of the occasion states that ‘Schubert had little technique, Vogl had not much of a voice’. Some 150 years later Fischer-Dieskau writes ‘It is not surprising to read that the performers had technical difficulties, for they were interpreting Schiffers Scheidelied.’ Whether this song was actually performed on that occasion (it had been written the month before) is not to be found in the sources at my disposal. But what is revealing is that Fischer-Dieskau acknowledges that even a great artist of our own time finds the work challenging. It is hard enough to sing, but the stamina needed to play it far outweighs anything required in the pianistically notorious Erlkönig. That horse-ride étude in triplets seems over in a flash in comparison to Schiffers Scheidelied with its long stretches of relentlessly rattling semiquavers, even more tiring for the pianist’s overworked right arm. Rather like a seasick voyager caught in the middle of an ocean storm, one longs for these battering waves to let up and stop. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why even Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore elected to leave out three strophes from their recording (in their vast set from the early seventies). As far as I know, this is the first recording of the song in its complete form.

The song deserves and needs a complete performance for the sake of the poem which, like Jägers Abendlied, tells us a great deal about Schober. The two songs are twinned in every way and even their very different moods and tempi seem designed by the admiring Schubert to show off the ‘Florestan’ and ‘Eusebius’ sides of the poet’s nature. The egocentric Schober was partial to poems in the first person which cast him as the intrepid narrator in various dashing disguises – this seaman calls forth more invigorating music than the musing hunter. (The poem was written a decade before the most famous of all German seaman’s farewells, Eichendorff’s Seemanns Abschied.) A reading of Schober’s entire poem is sufficient to contest Capell’s interpretation of the scenario: he sees the sailor as being ‘full of apprehension about his coming voyage, and he urges his young woman to renounce a tie with one so almost certainly doomed’.

Young woman? One searches in vain in the long text for such a character. There is no pronoun or adjectival ending which shows that the person to whom this poem is addressed is female, and one can only think that this ambiguity seems too studied not to be deliberate. In the verse missing in the Fischer-Dieskau recording, the gender of ‘Mein Freund [not ‘Meine Freundin’] im heimischen Paradies’ (verse 8) seems crucial. The poem’s vigorous language of comradeship says that it is addressed to a younger man (‘Mein Kind’ is again ambiguous) of whom he is the mentor. This person is less experienced, but also energetic and brave – someone capable, as is implied in the last verse, of physically burying the remains of the sailor washed up at last upon the shore. The tenderness in this poem is of the manly kind with overtones of ancient Greek-inspired eroticism that we later find in Housman:

O were he and I together,
Shipmates on the fleeted main,
Sailing through the summer weather
To the spoil of France and Spain.
O were he and I together
Locking hands and taking leave,
Low upon the trampled heather
In the battle lost at eve …

If Schober had been a little more self-confident he might have been as open as Whitman some thirty years later in Song of the Open Road:

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precise than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

In fact Schober recoils from such a commitment, even on paper. He wants to have his cake and eat it: the devotion of an admiring friend at home doting on his picture is combined with a need for freedom. Of course this is rationalised as concern for the safety of his younger companion, and there is also a sense of guilt in such lines as ‘O sever your young life quickly / From my uncertain existence’. The tenor of the poem is typical of the romantic tone of the correspondence between Schober and the younger Moritz von Schwind. This youthful painter was also referred to as ‘My beloved’ by Schubert, and Schwind’s letter to Schober on Schubert’s death (25 November 1828) is revealing of the type of highly emotional vocabulary employed by some of the members of this circle of friends when writing to each other:

You know how much I loved him, so you will understand that I can hardly bear the thought that I have lost him … You are still here, and you still love me with the same love which in those unforgettable times bound us to our beloved Schubert. To you I offer all the love which has not been buried with him …

There is a great deal of different opinion in the Schubert circle concerning Schober. He was considered unsound by the good-hearted Ottenwalt (‘The blossom is blighted; where shall the fruit come from?’) and Josef Kenner spoke of him with positive venom (Schober was still very much alive, though had long since left Vienna):

Under the guise of the most amiable sociability, and even engaging affection, there reigned … a deep moral depravity … [Schober] devised a philosophical system for his own reassurance and to justify himself in the eyes of the world as well as to provide a basis for his aesthetic oracle, about which he was probably as hazy as any of his disciples; nevertheless he found the mysticism of sensuality sufficiently elastic for his own freedom of movement; and so did his pupils. The need for love and friendship emerged with such egotism and jealousy that to his adherents he alone was all, not only prophet, but God himself and apart from his oracles he was willing to tolerate no other religion, no morals, no restraint. Anyone who did not worship him exclusively and follow him blindly was unfit to be elevated to his intellectual heights …

This portrait of a latter-day Mephistopheles comes from the same pen which wrote that Schubert’s ‘craving for pleasure dragged his soul down to the trough of moral degradation’ (Eric Blom’s translation for ‘die Genusssucht seiner Psyche zu ihrem Schlammpfuhl niederzog’). Male friendship, and the romantic expression of it, was governed by a very different, less guarded, set of rules in Schubert’s time than in our own age, over-aware of psychological and sexual nuance. But it is not hard to detect in Kenner’s words a description of a modern-day Socrates, someone who was known to be a seducer and corrupter of young men as well as women. It is not to side with Kenner’s moralising and judgmental tone to say that in using the word disciple (‘Anhänger’ with its connotation of a sect) he hits the nail on the head in one respect that is relevant to this song: the poem seems addressed to an adoring disciple as much as a lover per se. The language seems highly idealistic but it is awash with self-dramatising egoism, the beloved friend only useful as a mirror in which the would-be seaman can discern his own portrait. Schober fails to create an intrepid image however; according to Capell, the character comes across as ‘unsailorly’ and someone who was ‘simply never cut out for seafaring’.

No matter; Schubert seems to believe in the nobility of what is being said. He is himself no more the object of love in this song than he had been in Jägers Liebeslied; but Schober’s credo of living life within (and sometimes apart from) a circle of loving friendship obviously strikes many a chord or, as here, many a broken chord. The composer writes another of his ‘symphonic’ songs, albeit one of the more simple ones. What this song lacks in subtlety and individual illustration of images (it goes by too quickly for such typically Schubertian dallying) it makes up for in terms of energy and sheer audacity of scale. The binary construction is familiar from the form of such works as Romanze des Richard Löwenherz. There B minor alternated with B major; here the change of axis is a shift between E minor and B major. In both songs the use of B major is reserved for music which is fashioned as a refuge from the storm of battle or the battering seas. (In Schiffers Scheidelied the semiquavers are replaced by quavers at this point, a moment of respite for the pianist).

The form of the song is the following: verse 1 (storm music in E minor with touches of the major key); verse 2 (the same music as for verse 1 but without any major key modifications); verse 3 (a new section in B major which is exactly repeated for verse 4); verse 5 (E minor, only slightly varied from verse 1 with only a touch of major-key harmony – this is exactly repeated for verse 6). Verses 7 and 8 (back to the B major music which is the same as that for verses 3 and 4). Verse 9 begins with the same E minor music as for verses 1, 2, 5 and 6, but after thirteen bars the direction of the music changes where the final words of the poem are repeated to make a more extended coda section. The form is thus AA BB AA BB with a final A modified as a coda.

The effect of this gigantic structure is rather vitiated by cutting out some of the strophes. In his recording with Gerald Moore, Fischer-Dieskau leaves out 4, 6 and 8 to make AABABA which promotes the storm-lashed E minor music at the expense of the moments of respite in B major. The storm interludes in the piano are also sometimes coloured by major-key harmony, sometimes not, according to the mood of the words. In employing this particular piano figuration of broken octaves (which more often than not double the shape of the vocal line) Schubert brings something new to his songs. It would have been a brave man who played this work to an audience including Hummel, but it pays some tribute to the pianistic style of such a master, a self-conscious virtuosity that Schubert usually avoided in his own works, unless he had a certain pianist in mind. As it happened there was one such on the scene at exactly this time – Karl Maria von Bocklet (1801-1881). Together with Josef Slavjk, Bocklet he had given a performance of Schubert’s Rondeau in B minor (D895) for violin and piano at the beginning of 1827. He was also to perform numerous piano duets with the composer, and to give the first performance of the Fantasie for violin and piano early in 1828. My guess is that Schubert imagined Schiffers Scheidelied, so different from any of the contemporary Winterreise songs, in Bocklet’s capable hands rather than his own.

from notes by Graham Johnson 2000

Other albums featuring this work

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
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