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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDJ33011
Recording details: June 1990
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: May 1991
Total duration: 2 minutes 28 seconds

Auflösung, D807
First line:
Verbirg dich, Sonne
composer
March 1824; first published in 1842 in volume 34 of the Nachlass
author of text

Other recordings available for download
The Songmakers' Almanac, Dame Felicity Lott (soprano), Graham Johnson (piano)
Introduction
This is a grand song, a mighty utterance on a majestic scale. To hear it for the first time is a moment of discovery for all Schubertians; it is one of the pieces which forces us to re-define what we expect from the composer. And then we think we know him fully until the next of his many surprises. The music sweeps upwards from the depths, a rhythmic cell made up of a rising arpeggio to which is added a tiny shudder of ecstasy, a motif that is repeated nearly fifty times in the song, and contrasted with the occasional diminished seventh descent to the abyss. It is a miniature forerunner of the opening of Das Rheingold for it stays for long stretches in the tonic key. One would say that it was of orchestral scale and inspiration except that the particular articulation of the piano (all those thickets of semiquavers harnessing the energy of every available finger) is at the heart of the song's force field; a watery sheen of harp glissandi would not do nearly so well. After six bars the whirring dynamo of the accompaniment is set to generate the birth of an extraordinary vocal line. The voice essays an utterance of cosmic grandeur; nothing less will do to address the forces of nature. The artist is at this moment more powerful than even they. The suicidal Mayrhofer knew, as A E Housman did, the power of a cheap knife:

I need but stick it in my heart
And down will come the sky,
And earth's foundations will depart
And all you folk will die.

Musical comparisons with Wagner come to mind again, but this is Wagnerian audacity laced with the implacable classical rigour of Gluck. In this song Schubert seems to have given musical shape to the poet's megalomania, as in its companion piece Abendstern (Volume 6) he finds Mayrhofer's fear, insecurity and humility. Auflösung in full swing seems enormous, but in actual fact the song is also contained and introspective; it is too private to be rabble-rousing, as performers who have tried to end a group with it have discovered. With its thrum, hum and buzz of extra-terrestrial sorcery, it bristles with electricity but finally lacks the mean to harness it. It excites pity more than delight for it voices the poet's intense inward wail ('Geh unter, Welt!'), a tone which Schubert probably had heard only too often from his old friend. The sweet ethereal choirs are the sirens of self delusion; the climactic high note is placed by the composer (who knew exactly what he was doing) at a deliberately awkward point for the singer, already winded, as they all are, by the relentless onslaught of vocal arpeggii and never a pause for breath. The effect looks ecstatic on paper but in reality it is straining after the impossible; the hopelessness of the poet's vision is built into the music itself. After this, the brave rhetoric subsides to a dark, muttering undertone, and then the rumbling infinity of silence.

Auflösung is by far the biggest of the four songs written in March 1824 which mark both a return and farewell to the poetry of Mayrhofer after a two-year silence, the result of a personal estrangement between composer and poet. We shall never know why there was this coldness between old friends; Schubert was remarkably faithful to members of his circle. The two men had shared a room in the Wipplingerstrasse for eighteen months between 1818 and 1820; it must have seemed to the young composer a very haven of Bohemian cultivation compared to the discipline of the schoolhouse which was his parental home. Whatever had been the relationship between them (and one must concede that Mayrhofer, ten years older than Schubert, was no penniless student, and had no need to share his space for the reasons of impecunity that prompted, say, Wolf and Mahler to share a room as young men) it is certain that his tastes in literature and philosophy changed the course of the composer's life. This is a scenario that could encompass anything from Mayrhofer as fatherly mentor, to unscrupulous seducer of a runaway. Fritz Lehner in his film entitled Mit meinen heissen Tränen conjectures that the composer had gone through a certain phase of intimacy with Mayrhofer as a younger man, but had grown impatient with the importunacy of his continued advances. Schubert's illness has been cited as both the cause of the rupture (presumably because the poet was horrified by the heterosexual adventure that occasioned it) and the reason for the reconciliation. The latter seems to me more likely to be the case; in the new phase of Schubert's life, after the experiences of 1823, the slate was wiped clean of old quarrels and misunde rstandings. The fires of Auflösung seem to consume and cleanse the petty personal concerns of the past; poet and composer are hurtling, in different directions, toward new and uncharted realms.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


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