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The eighteen-year-old Schubert cannot be blamed for downgrading Baumberg's rather connoisseur-like impressions of a 'prince among wines' to a drinking song suitable for a large number of people. It was published as a solo but its strong striding basses and powerful chords (much of the song is loud) seem to encourage choral treatment. The tune is hearty and enjoyable without being one of the composer's most subtle creations. As is often the case with the drinking songs the accompaniment bubbles with good spirits and counterpoints the simplicity of a vocal line able to be quickly assimilated by amateur musicians; the staccato quavers in this case represents pétillant high spirits induced by the wine. The middle section (from 'Mit lang' entbehrter Wonne') is quieter and more lyrical with the touch of philosophical observation indispensable in the German drinking song. When the voices finish, chords rise to the top of the stave in the accompaniment and descend in a scale in sixths to the home key of B flat; the following five bars stay resolutely grounded in this tonality with dotted quaver/semiquaver figures embroidering the tonic chord in various registers of the keyboard. The jerkiness of all this hocketing and hicupping concludes the song in comically bibulous fashion.
It is said that some nineteenth-century drinkers drank Sauterne throughout their meals, despite the fact that by today's standards something so sweet would appear as a desert wine only (apart from its luxurious use with pâté de foie gras). The same taste for sweet wines characteristic of an earlier age must account for the enthusiasm for Tokay which seems to have been considered a wine for all occasions in Schubert's day. Tokay is an equivalent wine to Sauterne – a sort of eastern Yquem made from the furmint grape which is harvested in the late autumn when the alternation of sun and mist provoke Botrytis cinerea, or 'noble rot'. It is this pourriture noble which makes the grapes so sweet. It is possible that Baumberg is referring to the harvesting of the wine in the poem's first verse when she speaks of her 'half-frozen heart' being warmed by the sun – for this is exactly what happens to the grape. It is true that everyday tokay – Tokay szamorodni (literally 'Tokay as it comes') – can be sweeter or drier according to the vintage, and it is likely that this was the wine that the members of Schubert's circle would have been able to afford in Viennese hostelries. Baumberg's mention of a 'köstlicher Wein' indicates, however, that she was referring to the more expensive Tokay aszu which is aged in oak for not less than three years.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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