The time signature is 6/8, suggestive of the dance, and Schubert often employs this Ländler rhythm for songs with a cheeky glint in the eye (cf. Seligkeit where analogies with heaven are used for flirtatious purposes). Sprache der Liebe begins in traditional serenade vein, but it is soon clear that the composer has other things in mind for the song apart from a pretty tune with simple quaver accompaniment. In the bar before 'Da die Nacht hernieder taute' the pianist has a tiny interlude, hands together in conspiratorial octaves. After this, night falls in the vocal line as the melody sinks deeper into the stave; mention of whispering ('Müssen wir Gelispel pflegen') prompts rustling semiquavers in the accompaniment. The music has briefly modulated into the dominant at 'zarte Laute' (in the original key of E major this is to B major ) and now it moves in Neapolitan fashion to G major.
The next section gives rise to a squeeze-box progression of chromatics where the flattened minor-key inflections on the verbs 'atmen' and 'stöhnen' paint the forlorn sighs of the woebegone lover. Love has become indistinguishable from music itself in his mind, and the initial discretion of the serenader is forgotten. The ear is teased by the breathless process whereby Schubert depicts the poet's heart flowing to the beloved with the help of music. We are made to wait for the return to the home key, and the final cadence of consummation is artfully prolonged. In this way the listener is tantalised in the same manner as the impatient lover. In the accompaniment, the change from quavers to semiquavers (first in the inner voices, and then gradually replacing the longer notes in the piano's right hand) is cleverly planned to make the final eight bars especially passionate. At the end the piece vibrates with strummed chords in both hands; it is as if a forest fire has broken out in the thicket of semiquavers, the blaze of harmonies emblematic of the telepathic powers of music. The vocal line is made up of short phrases ('Alle Schmerzen', 'welche schliefen' and so on) which depict breathlessness and excitement. The words 'Liebe denkt in süssen Tönen' state the crucial point of the poem, that feelings are more powerful than words, and that music is nearer to a state of feeling than any mere verbal expression. This phrase, which Schubert sets three times using sequence and rhythmic elaboration to increase intensity, was a quotation from Ludwig Tieck whose words Schlegel printed as a motto above his poem. At the final 'süssen Tönen' the vocal line suddenly blossoms into an effusion of semiquavers and an ornamental triplet, and then nose-dives into the lap of the stave with an elongated and syncopated setting of 'Tönen'. The effect is like the final gasp of a satisfied lover, home at last where he would wish to be, passion finally spent. Underneath the singer the accompaniment continues to race in pounding heartbeats of amorous exertion. It is only on the last syllable of the last word that we really feel that we have reached the tonic with a final delighted shudder.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996
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