The minstrel and his harp are a rich theme in Schubert songs. The Ossian songs were published with a vignette which showed the old Celtic minstrel with a harp. The werewolf is killed by a harp, no less, in Der Liedler
. The angry bard of Der zürnende Barde
asks who dares to destroy his instrument. We meet the harp in its antique form in An die Leier
, and the old minstrel who goes with his harp into the wood to sing his swansong in Nachtstück
has surely some of Schubert's greatest music. We meet the zither as the minstrel's accompanying instrument in Des Sängers Habe
and of course the lute is to be found not only in An die Laute
but also in Die schöne Müllerin
. We assume that the troubadours in Der Sänger
and Die drei Sänger
also played the harp.The most famous of the harp songs, those to Goethe texts from Wilhelm Meister
, are heard later in this recital.
This is one of the earliest example of Schubert giving the piano a harp-like accompaniment. Flowing semiquavers are underpinned by minims with curious grace-note upbeats which go some way to simulate the sound of the plucked lower strings of the harp. The tune, in E minor, is gently melancholic and somewhat reminiscent of Mozart's Das Lied der Trennung K519. The descending bass line at 'verhalle zart und leise' exactly mirrors in harmonic terms the idea of a tune fading away; the lift of anguish under 'Schwanenweise' (E - E sharp - F sharp in the bass) suddenly takes the music into realms of the unknown - exactly where the poem is also straying. This is a curiously austere song, difficult to sing, but it has a haunting quality.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995