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Enobarbus (to Antony): Ha, my brave Emperor,
Shall we dance now the Egyptian bacchanals, and celebrate our drink?
Pompey: Let's ha't, good soldier.
Antony: Come, let's all take hands,
Till that conquering wine hath steep'd our sense
In soft and delicate Lethe.
Enobarbus: All take hands.
Make battery to our ears with the loud music.
The while I'll place you, then the boy shall sing.
The holding every man shall beat as loud
As his strong sides can volley.
(Music plays. Enobarbus places them hand in hand)
Boy (sings): Come, thou monarch of the vine …
Although Capell hears Handel in this song, and Fischer-Dieskau Mozart's Osmin, the music is in Schubert's familiar C major drinking-song vein, with the added suggestion of drunkenness. It is not the boy who sings this song in Schubert's mind, but a group of rabble-rousing and carousing soldiers. The doubling of the voice part on the piano seems partly for security here, as if the revellers were summoning all their will-power to steady themselves after too much wine. There is nothing so serious as the deep and earnest concentration of the truly drunk. The setting of 'bis die Welt sich dreht' as a hocketing succession of quavers, a semitone apart and progressively higher in the voice, is suggestive of boozy hiccups, blurred vision and spinning horizons. The mordent on 'feister' adds to the sense of inebriated jollity, and the vocal line is lubricated by quavers in a way that suggests slurred speech; having made the supreme effort to articulate the minims at 'Füll' uns' for the third time, the rest of the phrase ('bis die Welt sich dreht') runs away in a gush, out of control in a slide toward the tonic (here it is anachronistic to speak also of the gin). The postlude and the introduction are identical: the opening pomposo fanfares are appropriate to music on a princely barge, but they give way in the closing bars ('Time, gentlemen, please!') to fourteen of the most disorientated and comic quavers that the composer ever wrote. It is as if the right hand were lashing out in vain to clutch at a steadying handrail, accompanied by crotchets in the left hand which attempt to regain a foothold on a deck heaving with chromatic swells. After a repetition of this verse (the composer indicates repeat marks despite the fact there is only one strophe) we are left to assume that it is not only the deck that heaves, and that `chromatic' may be unfortunately descriptive of more than the sheerly musical outpourings. Schubert writes as a man who knows colourful scenes such as this at first hand.
It seems singularly unnecessary to speak of Shakespeare's life story (the little that is known about it) for English-speaking readers. Suffice it to say that The Two Gentlemen of Verona was unknown before 1623; Cymbeline was first published in 1623 but was performed in 1611; Antony and Cleopatra was registered in 1608, but the Folio text was first published in 1623.
For the Germans, Shakespeare was perhaps the single greatest literary discovery from a foreign land. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing may be regarded as the founder of the Shakespeare cult in Germany; he praises Shakespeare as early as 1750, and modelled the blank verse of his play Nathan der Weise on that of the Bard. Christoph Martin Wieland had published prose translations of Shakespeare plays as early as 1762. These, as well as the Shakespeare studies of Johann Gottfried Herder, did not escape the attentions of the young Goethe who encountered Herder at Strasbourg University in 1770. Goethe wrote: 'The first page of Shakespeare that I read made me aware that he and I were one … I had been one born blind who first sees the light … I did not hesitate for a moment to renounce the rule-ridden theatre of the ancients … I leaped into free air and for the first time was aware that I possessed hands and feet … In the face of Shakespeare I acknowledge that I am a poor sinner, while he prophesies through the pure force of nature.' Goethe was inspired in numerous works by the Bard's example: the 'Erdgeist' comes from Caesar's ghost; Faust's brawling is suggested by the carousings of Prince Hal; Juliet's Nurse has inspired the widow-companion of Gretchen whose madness, in turn, is modelled on Ophelia; Faust's duel with Valentine comes from Romeo's with Tybalt; and so on. Goethe's great colleague and friend Friedrich von Schiller was also struck by Shakespeare. At the beginning of his career the character of Franz Moor in Die Räuber resembles Richard III and, at the end of it, Wilhelm Tell seems influenced by Julius Caesar. The next translator of importance was August von Schlegel; he had published no fewer than seventeen plays by 1810. This monumental work was completed in 1825-1833 by Graf Wolf Heinrich Baudissin and his wife Dorothea, under the supervision of Ludwig Tieck, Dorothea's father. Thus a further nineteen plays were added to an edition that became standard for over a century. It is at this point in the story that Schubert appears all too briefly. This was a time when the Germans found it easy to take instantly to a poet who had been translated for them into modern language. It was thus that Shakespeare appeared peculiarly contemporary to the Germans, something that was denied to English audiences of the nineteenth century who had to deal with a vocabulary, idiom and style that was no longer in everyday use. One can only surmise what further lyrics by Shakespeare Schubert might have set had he lived longer, for here were two artists with certain overpowering similarities. In the sweep and variety of his Lieder, Schubert displays a vast breadth of imagination and human sympathy. In this respect the adjectives Shakespearean and Schubertian might be interchangeable.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996
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