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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDJ33008
Recording details: May 1989
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: December 1990
Total duration: 6 minutes 2 seconds

'Walker, in probing, glowing form throughout, closes this long and profoundly satisfying recital with a hair-raising account of Erlkönig' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is distinguished singing indeed … Graham Johnson's unimpeachable choice of mood and the impeccable musicality and technique of his creative role at the piano is the linchpin of this great project' (CDReview)

Ständchen, D920
First line:
Zögernd leise
composer
July 1827; published in 1891
author of text

Introduction
The circumstances surrounding the birth of this delicious pièce d'occasion tell us a good deal about Schubert's personality, and about how his friends, not to mention mere acquaintances, tended to regard him as an effortlessly flowing and inexhaustible fount of entertainment and amusement. One must remember that it was 'commissioned' at the same time as the composer was working on his last opera, Der Graf von Gleichen, and he probably had to interrupt work on that big piece (he never did finish it) to write it. This was after all the year of very great music, of Winterreise for example, a task which cost Schubert a great amount of effort and spiritual introspection, a work which his friends were to be ignorant of for some time to come. Ständchen was conceived as a surprise tribute for the twenty-fourth birthday of one Louise Gosmar (1803-1858). An entry in the diary of the young Schubertian Franz von Hartmann for the month of February 1827 implies that Fräulein Gosmar was at least knowledgable about Schubert's music and liked it. She was born of a prosperous Jewish family, and was later to marry Leopold Sonnleithner, a barrister who played an influential part in the affairs of the Philharmonie Society and who was an admirer, if not a close friend, of Schubert's. This birthday was hardly an event in the composer's intimate circle then, but Gosmar and her prospective husband were rich and important enough for her singing teacher, Anna Fröhlich, to go to quite a bit of trouble on her behalf. This included roping in Schubert and enlisting him to write music to the poem that Grillparzer (also roped in, poor fellow, but at least he was a part of the Sonnleithner family) had already provided. Let the redoubtable Anna, the Lilian Baylis of Biedermeier Vienna, continue the story:

I said to him "Look Schubert, you must set this to music for me" … He looked at the sheet of paper for a white and finally said "There, it is finished now, I've got it already. " And on/y three days later he really did bring it to me, finished, set for mezzo-soprano (that is for my sister Pepi [Josefine Fröhlich]) and four men's voices. At this I said to him "No, Schubert, I can't use it like this, it's meant to be a tribute from Fräulein Gosmar s women friends only. You must write me the chorus for women's voices. "I remember quite clearly saying this to him; he was sitting over there in the right-hand window recess of the ante-room. And soon afterwards he brought it to me, set for Pepi's voice and women's chorus …"

How would he dare not? On the llth August 1827 three carriages were used to transport the chorus of ladies from Vienna to Döbling, and a piano was secretly moved into the front garden so that the celebrant could be surprised. The Fröhlich sisters were more surprised (they would be wouldn't they?) that Schubert did not turn up to this first performance. He would also have escaped the second if they had not sent someone to track him down to his favourite coffee house and haul him to the concert. In Schubertian annals this behaviour is always put down to forgetfulness; time and again, and always taken at his word, the composer used this excuse, often the secret weapon of the seemingly vague, to protect himself from company and events which were unnecessary to him and his work. It is perhaps the one negative trait of the Viennese character, unjustly renowned for dissembling perhaps, but with a réputation for guile nevertheless, that we can find in his make-up. I, for one, and in the light of this story, do not blame him a bit.

We must nevertheless thank the importunacy of the Fröhlich sisters. Both of the song's versions are beautiful; we perform the men's chorus setting because it is for these forces that the idea first occurred to him. The idea of a lot of women prowling around at night to sing to the 'Freundin' would have seemed faintly ridiculous to a composer steeped in the gallant tradition of the serenade. The music itself is in the famous evening and lullaby key of F major. The idea of tentative tip-toe dalliance, with the lightest and most discreet of knocks at the door, is superbly conveyed by the gentle, but pointed, moto perpetuo accompaniment. The words 'steigend, schwellend, hebend', are made for music and modulation, and Schubert makes full use of them. The masterful quasi-fugal passage (somehow perfect for the solemn searchings of a short-sighted wise man with swinging lantern—an academic schooled in the rigours of old-fashioned music?) from the beginning of the third verse, is both a bow to the the Men in Armour in Die Zauberflöte, and an indication that counterpoint was interesting Schubert more and more; he was soon to want to take lessons in it. Friendship and love ('Freundschaft, Liebe') cut a swathe through the pedantry, and the purest melody returns. An extraordinary touch of humour is the composer's built-in smile in acknowledging the length of the piece. Just when the serenaded sweetheart is promised rest, and we think the proceedings are to be wound up, we are wamed of one more word (noch ein Wort) and the music sets off again. The exit is charmingly managed in quasi-operatic style; indeed this work has something in common with the haunting nocturnal chorus that opens Schubert's opera Alfonso und Estrella.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990

Other albums featuring this work
'Schubert: The Complete Songs' (CDS44201/40)
Schubert: The Complete Songs
MP3 £130.00FLAC £130.00ALAC £130.00Buy by post £150.00 CDS44201/40  40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)  
'Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition' (HYP200)
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'The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2' (HYP20)
The Essential Hyperion, Vol. 2
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