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|The Songmakers' Almanac, Richard Jackson (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)|
This touching and unusually haunting piece of music for reciter and piano was entitled Abschied von der Erde in the Peters Edition and in Mandyczewski. Peter Branscombe reminds us in a chapter on 'Schubert and the Melodrama' (in Schubert Studies, 1982) that the composer was interested in this medium (with orchestral accompaniment) throughout his career, from Des Teufels Lustschloss to Fierrabras. Branscombe also points out that, taking his operas into account, no other composer of Schubert's stature has written so many melodramas. This piece, the only example of such a work with piano in the Schubert canon, was written as a result of a request from one Adolf von Pratobevera who had written a play in honour of the birthday of his father, Karl Josef von Pratobevera. This was a verse drama entitled Der Falke ('The Falcon') and it was performed in the poet's home on 17 February 1826. Kreissle von Hellborn, Schubert's first biographer, tells us that the words were spoken in the play by the dying Ritter Hugo. In view of the fact that Kreissle was to be Pratobevera's brother-in-law, it is disappointing that he fails to tell us more details. It would have been interesting to know, for example, whether Schubert himself took part at the first performance. Ritter Hugo's squire, Kuno, goes under the nickname of Meister Kummer which explains the second stanza, although 'Meister Kummer' has always been taken as a metaphor for sorrow itself by performers of this piece.
The music is in a quietly flowing tempo – 'langsam' but with an almost continual triplet movement. Schubert has achieved a mood of gentle pathos. Many of the bars have an accent on the third beat which then falls to the fourth, phrased away like a world-weary sigh. The quality and imagination of this music with its sometimes magical modulations leads Reed to compare it with the slow movement of the String Quintet and the last piano sonata. The words are written above the stave without any indication of rhythm, and it is as much as the reciter can do to keep them together with the music in the general area indicated on the page; there is no question of a recitation completely in time with the music, although there are perhaps certain 'gathering points' and modulations where the harmonies are suggestive of a specific coming together of word and tone. Fischer-Dieskau is eloquent on the quality of the work: 'Schumann, Liszt and Richard Strauss made much use later of the melodramatic recitative. But none of them achieved the musical intensity of this brief contemplation of the power of love to turn sorrow into joy.'
By chance this music clarifies another problem of Schubertian performance, and this is to do with notation. In the twentieth bar, and again in the thirtieth, a triplet figure in the piano is printed with the stems downwards. Above this, stems upwards, is a dotted quaver+semiquaver figure which shares the first and third notes of the triplet, and is joined to the triplet like Siamese twins. Here is further evidence in Schubert's own hand that, in the mind of the composer and his contemporaries, the last note of a triplet, and the semiquaver after a dotted quaver, could be of equal rhythmic quantity. This has ramifications for the accompanist and chamber music player throughout Schubert's canon, above all in a song like Wasserflut from Winterreise.
Not much is known about Adolf Pratobevera or how Schubert was persuaded to provide music for a family occasion, almost certainly without fee. It is probable that he was one of the many young men on the fringe of the Schubert circle, introduced by one of the older members, and that the composer simply took a shine to him. The father of Pratobevera, whose birthday was celebrated, was an important member of the judiciary, and his son was also to work in the justice ministry. In the 1860s Pratobevera was to rise to high eminence in government circles, but his artistic endeavours, such as they were, seem to have been confined to his youth. Fischer-Dieskau tells us he published 'political epigrams, and a few articles on legal matters'.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996
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