The Hyperion Schubert Edition came into being because of the daring and initiative of the late Ted Perry, founder of the label that contains his own name in its second and third syllables. In the middle to late 1980s it was a particular joy to be caught up in the orbit of Ted’s confidence, his optimism and generosity of spirit, and his unswerving belief in his chosen artists. Although he was a businessman, he trusted his own ears more than the critics’, and he was not afraid to listen to his heart. At that happy time a favourable climate in the classical music industry provided strong winds in the sails of his enterprise.
But this is to rush forward in the story. I had first met Mr Perry in 1978 when I accompanied the tenor Martyn Hill in a recording for another company – he had not yet founded his own. Fortunately Ted took a liking to my work and I was among the earlier artists to appear on his new label. The founder singers of The Songmakers’ Almanac featured in a series of Hyperion LPs: Voices of the Night, Venezia, Voyage à Paris, España and Le Bestiaire. I then proposed an album of two LPs, a Schubertiade featuring these same four singers – Felicity Lott, Ann Murray, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Richard Jackson – in four, differently themed programmes, one per side, that combined well known and rarely heard Schubert lieder. Our Schubertiade was very well received in early 1985 (there was even a Gramophone cover), but what I did not realize was that these discs were an important audition for me, not only as far as Ted was concerned, but also Lucy, the ardent Schubertian who was the lady in his life at the time, and who had turned pages for me at the sessions. One night when the three of us were having dinner, Ted asked me what I would really like to do in terms of recording; I replied (as would most accompanists): ‘All the Schubert songs, of course.’ In a few seconds the deal was done over a glass of wine, and a phone call the next morning proved Ted a man who meant to keep his word. This project was considered dotty by many connoisseurs at the time; the great critic Desmond Shawe-Taylor assured a colleague that it would never be completed, despite its promising beginnings.
But that again rushes forward in the story; how to begin had been the big question. Ted and I knew that such a bold project needed the support of an auspicious singer to get it started. I had accompanied Dame Janet Baker in several recitals since 1978, and I knew that her Schubert repertoire was extensive. In the late 1960s Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau had invited Dame Janet to record all the women’s songs with him for DGG. On grounds of contractual exclusivity EMI refused her permission to do so; she told me she was devastated, and angry, to have to turn down such a splendid opportunity. The great baritone clearly saw her as his only possible female collaborator for Schubert, and embarked on his project (29 LPs) with Gerald Moore, and without a female colleague. The public was thus denied a Schubert song edition that would have filled in many of the gaps in those enormous light- and dark-blue boxed sets that Fischer-Dieskau made for DGG for issue in the early 1970s. I had first learned my Schubert, as everyone did of my generation, in listening to these ground-breakings sets, as well as earlier EMI recitals, although by the time I embarked on the Hyperion project I had an extensive collection of 78s covering the work of the earlier Schubert singers – Karl Erb, Elena Gerhardt, Hans Hotter, Gerhard Hüsch, Lotte Lehmann, Elisabeth Schumann, not to mention Fischer-Dieskau’s own contemporaries – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Hermann Prey and so on. In a category on his own was Sir Peter Pears, whom I had been privileged to accompany from time to time since 1972 and who was my true master. His Winterreise, accompanied by Britten in Aldeburgh in 1971, had triggered my Damascene conversion, both to Schubert, and to the prospect of a life in accompanying.
Dame Janet, no longer restricted by exclusivity, agreed to begin our series. I devised every programme in the series except that of Dame Janet. She came up with a list of songs which was a marvellous mix of the famous and the unknown, and it featured the two most famous poets of German literature, Goethe and Schiller. My only intervention was to suggest that we should drop Der Unglückliche (Pichler) because it did not fit into the Goethe–Schiller theme. One of my regrets is that I did not press for all the strophes of D296 – I was far too grateful to ask for anything extra. The recording sessions in February 1987 took place in Elstree – two days of intense and concentrated work (sessions would eventually be allotted a more realistic three days). Dame Janet’s artistry ensured a prize-winning disc: her unique vocal colour, febrile yet vulnerable, and the magisterial conviction with which she governed subtleties of shape and rubato, launched the series with an appropriate mixture of gusto and dignity. It was agreed that I should provide the notes and commentaries. I remember how much I regretted that Gerald Moore (who had died the year before, as had Pears, and my own father) was not there to send his customary comments to his ‘grandson-in-music’, as he generously referred to me.
At this time the horizons and the aspirations of the series were still local. Ted saw it as part of Hyperion’s brief to record fine British artists who had been unaccountably passed over by the bigger companies. After the Baker recording it was understood that we should continue the series with my own, more immediate, contemporaries. Stephen Varcoe, a great favourite of Ted’s and mine, recorded Volume 2 in October 1987. This included the first of Schubert’s really long ballads (Der Taucher) but at under 60 minutes this was the shortest of the discs. I soon realized that if I was to include all of Schubert’s songs I would have to be more careful to use the available time on the CDs to better advantage. There was a water theme to this disc – poets are only one of many means to anthologize Schubert’s lieder. Time seemed to stretch before us and a year passed before we continued with two further discs by artists whom I had long known and admired. Ann Murray’s Volume 3 was recorded in November 1988; she is always the incomparable mistress of her material. The disc by her husband, the tenor Philip Langridge, also a mesmerizing artist, had actually been recorded in September. Because it seemed a good idea to alternate issues between male and female singers, Philip’s disc emerged after Ann’s, as Volume 4. These records (the theme of both is poetry by Schubert’s Austrian friends) have been among the most admired in the series. The other disc made in September 1988 was the recital by Elizabeth Connell (Volume 5) – ‘Schubert and the Countryside’, songs about nature. This opulent and exciting voice was ideal for the operatic breadth of the great Schiller ballad Klage der Ceres.
It was impossible for me to plan out the allocation of songs for this series far in advance. Hyperion could not engage singers years ahead – if we had had the clout of a great opera house it would have been different – but artists who were available would usually slip three days of recording into their timetable fairly late in the day, and in the absence of operatic or orchestral engagements. Who were to be my next singers? I did not really know, yet all the programmes had to be tailor-made with an actual voice and personality in mind. To avoid a pile-up at the end, it was a general rule never to allow any one singer too many well known songs. After more than a decade of Songmakers’ Almanac programmes, many of my closer colleagues trusted me to provide them with suitable material. For example, the night music for Volume 6, all lullabies and barcarolles (recorded in September 1989), was an exact fit for the seductive vocal talents of Anthony Rolfe Johnson who had already made a disc of Shakespeare settings for Hyperion, not to mention a distinguished Britten recital.
The success of the series up to this point led to an important watershed. Why not, after all, ask artists from abroad to record for us? The redoubtable Elly Ameling came to Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, in August 1989 to sing Schubert. Everything about these sessions was memorable, not least the consummate music-making of Ameling herself (who was reigning queen of European lieder singers) and the amazing working relationship between her own sharp ears and those of our producer Martin Compton. The songs were all from 1815 (the first disc in the series with a time-frame) and she had agreed to sing such unknown ballads as Minona in return for some of the really great songs (she called them ‘plums’) of the year. (I was delighted that in the end she liked Minona well enough to programme it in recitals with Rudolf Jansen.) After Ameling’s Volume 7 there was no longer any reason to be diffident about asking European singers to join us. More importantly, there was less reason for them to refuse. Of course the best British singers remained indispensable. Sarah Walker’s recital (another record of nocturnal music) was issued as Volume 8; Ständchen was the first piece of extended choral music in the series so far. Sarah and I had worked together many times, in Britain, on tour in America, and also on a disc entitled Shakespeare’s Kingdom for Hyperion. Erlkönig was recorded at the very last moment and in one take, with all the blazing imagination for which this singer is admired. In October 1989 Arleen Auger, an American resident in Europe, came to record Volume 9 (songs that had connections with plays and the theatre). She had trained as a violinist (I recall her in rehearsal deciding whether certain vocal phrases were up-bow or down) and her art was based on a musical schooling of the greatest purity and refinement. I had first accompanied Arleen in the late 1970s for a BBC broadcast when she was on the staff at the Frankfurt Conservatoire; I was now astonished by the transformation in her career and self-confidence. She is one of two star sopranos in our series (Lucia Popp is the other) who have died since their recordings. Arleen’s rendition of Schiller’s Thekla, a ghostly voice singing from the ‘other side’, was extremely moving at the time; it now seems to contain a heartbreaking prophecy.
We continued on the basis of two to three recordings a year. This fitted Ted’s idea of how many new Schubert discs from Hyperion the record-buying public could cope with. There was still the ambition to finish by 1997, Schubert’s bicentenary, which then seemed a long time ahead; some simple arithmetic at the time might have made us more realistic. In May 1990 Martyn Hill (that fine tenor to whom I owed my initial introduction to Ted) made another splendid record of 1815 songs, issued as Volume 10. A month later, Brigitte Fassbaender recorded Volume 11 – ‘Songs of Death’. This great singer had suffered a personal bereavement just before the sessions and, not surprisingly, she approached this music with considerable angst. The intensity of her Ausstrahlung terrified all of us – the atmosphere at Rosslyn Hill was highly charged as never before or since – but subsequent recital encounters proved her an admirably warm-hearted friend. Right at the end of 1990 Marie McLaughlin came into the studio for a mixture of songs, both sacred and suggestive (Volume 13). The settings from Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake gave the programme an appropriately Scottish accent. These performances remain among my personal favourites of the series. When at the end of the sessions the beautiful (and happily married) Marie whispered that she needed a lift home (the microphone was still ‘live’), a phalanx of admirers materialized in seconds, competitively brandishing their car keys.
Some of Schubert’s songs, particularly the earlier ones, require larger voices. The composer was not particularly kind to his singers in the rather impractical first phase of his song-writing career. The generously voiced Adrian Thompson, that most equable, kind-hearted and amusing of colleagues, undertook the demanding songs between 1812 and 1814 (‘The Younger Schubert’, Volume 12). This was in February 1991, and I was already aware that I could not simply leave until last the considerable quantities of earlier music that showed the composer’s inexperience as well as his budding genius. There were two further recordings that year, back-to-back between 5 and 10 October. The first of these was Thomas Hampson, at the height of his considerable powers, singing texts inspired by Greek mythology. (Of Malcolm Crowthers’ many beautiful cover pictures for the series, the one for Volume 14 – see disc 18 in this new set – of Hampson in front of the Elgin marbles is particularly striking.) Hampson got so exasperated with himself during the recording of Amphiaraos that he threw a music stand from one end of the chapel to the other. A third, and final, programme of Schubert’s nocturnal music was recorded by Dame Margaret Price, also temperamental in her Celtic way, but always the complete professional. One of the greatest British sopranos of all time, she was a singer I had accompanied in recitals all over the world for many years (at the time she lived just outside Munich). Her Volume 15 featured lieder that we had performed together for quite some time on the concert platform; the recording flew by in two days, considerably helped by the gin and tonics provided by Ted Perry (he thought Margaret had come to the end of her first session, but the proffered refreshment simply rekindled her energy for further work).
The year 1992 was a glorious time for the project – five discs with five star singers. Ted had clearly decided we had to get a move-on. This was also the last year that I could allow myself to draw on the ever-diminishing repertoire without giving serious thought to how I was going to shape the final product, the squaring of a seemingly impossible circle. April 1992 saw my first, and sadly only, encounter with Lucia Popp. This mesmerizing woman, dazzlingly intelligent, came briefly into my life, recorded happily, invited me to accompany some recitals the following year, and then died of a brain tumour eighteen months later. She shouldered some of the songs of 1816 (issued as Volume 17) with infinite grace and an amused nonchalance that was part of her Slovakian charm. If Arleen’s Thekla is haunting, brave Lucia’s Litanei is no less so (she knew she was ill at the time of the recording, we did not). One cannot go far in a Schubert song volume without confronting intimations of mortality.
There were two recordings in May 1992: with Sir Thomas Allen in a programme of Schiller settings (Volume 16) which he undertook with his customary cheery energy and magical timbre (how well he copes with the heights of the inconsiderate young Schubert’s tessitura), and with Peter Schreier (Volume 18, ‘Schubert and the Strophic Song’). I had first worked with Peter over a decade earlier in America. His arrival at Bristol for the recording was another turning point for the series; he seemed to bring with him the spirit of the age-old German lieder tradition and bestow its somewhat belated blessing on Hyperion’s enterprise. Even then he was no longer a young singer, but despite a lifelong problem with diabetes he showed unflagging vivacity and an artistic will-power that time and again allowed his performances to communicate the ageless enthusiasm of the young lover in the Schulze songs. At the end of June Felicity Lott (not yet a Dame), my colleague from Royal Academy of Music days and founder soprano of The Songmakers’ Almanac, recorded a programme of songs about flowers and nature (Volume 19). While it is always wonderful to meet new singers and tune in to new temperaments, my very special relationship with ‘Flott’ allows me to draw on musical associations that go back for decades. I had reserved for this disc a handful of songs that we had often performed together, but as always she was eager to add to her vast repertoire. Music-making with this great artist (she has the most remarkable natural feeling for rhythm and tempo) has been at the core of my own development as a song accompanist. In October 1992 the Swiss soprano Edith Mathis (as it happens one of Schreier’s favourite lieder-singing colleagues) contributed an anthology of songs from 1817 (Volume 21). This justly famous singer gave performances of unfailing style and judicious musicality – she is a real Schubertian and I was heartbroken that her ill-health meant a last-minute cancellation of a Wigmore Hall recital some time later.
The recordings of 1992 took care of the discs to be issued in 1993 and into 1994, but we were still only just over half-way. There was also a new generation of interesting and gifted singers who merited an appearance with the series. It is here that the concept of the Schubertiad, in effect the shared recital disc, was called into service. Because of the large backlog of recordings waiting to be issued we only recorded two discs in 1993. These were both Schubertiads (songs from 1815, supplementing Volumes 7 and 10) which were arranged into two different casts of four singers each. Volume 20 featured Patricia Rozario, the gifted Indian soprano with whom I had already worked for a long time; John Mark Ainsley, originally a pupil of Anthony Rolfe Johnson, with a glorious tenor voice; the sonorous and soulful bass Michael George; and a bespectacled young man who had impressed me mightily when I had been a judge at the Walter Grüner lieder competition, another tenor, Ian Bostridge – I remember thinking how well his voice suited the microphone during the first play-back sessions. Volume 22 featured the considerable lieder-singing talents of the Scottish singers Lorna Anderson (soprano) and Jamie MacDougall (tenor); the distinguished Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo) graces a cast rounded off by the young Simon Keenlyside (baritone), destined to become one of the country’s most exciting operatic singers, but devoted, by nature and temperament, to singing lieder (he was to record Volume 2 in our Schumann series in 1997). We must not forget the sensitive contributions of the mezzo Catherine Denley to a number of these ensembles.
These concerted programmes became more and more the order of the day. A Goethe Schubertiad was recorded in May 1994 – the first time since Volume 1 that the series had concentrated on this crucial poet in Schubert’s life. Three of the singers, including Keenlyside, had already appeared on the Hyperion Edition, but this disc (Volume 24) also introduced the extraordinary German soprano, Christine Schäfer. I had first worked with her in Songmakers’ recitals at the Wigmore Hall, and had been struck by her brilliant ability to colour and inflect words. She was to record the prize-winning first volume of The Hyperion Schumann Edition in 1995 but was snapped up by DGG for an exclusive contract soon afterwards. There was still room in September 1994 for a solo disc with that eloquent German tenor Christoph Prégardien, a master of contained style (Volume 23); his Harfner songs are superb, but he also undertook some of the more obscure songs of 1816 which required, and received, his great lieder-singing expertise. We also had sessions on Die schöne Müllerin with Anthony Rolfe Johnson at about this time; we had worked many years together in The Songmakers’ Almanac and I had nearly made a disc of this cycle with him in Sweden; now seemed the time to make a permanent record of an interpretation that we had often given in the concert hall. In December 1994 the producer Mark Brown and I flew to Berlin to spend the day with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau who recorded for us the poems by Wilhelm Müller that had not been set to music by Schubert. Once the spoken part of the disc was in the can there was a crisis. With the integrity and openness of the great artist that he is, Tony Rolfe Johnson pronounced himself dissatisfied by first edits of this Müllerin – he had been fighting a cold at the sessions; we would have to do it over, but his tightly packed diary did not permit us to do this for some time. We already had the cover picture (here to be seen for the first time on disc 37), but Ted was understandably impatient to keep up the series’ impetus by issuing one of the long-awaited cycles with Fischer-Dieskau’s participation. What were we to do? What about Ian Bostridge who could record it immediately? ‘Well, Graham,’ said Ted, ‘if you think he can do it, let’s go with it …!’ The rest (after the rapturous reception of Volume 25, Die schöne Müllerin, and Bostridge’s EMI contract) is gramophone history.
By this point we had come to realize that completion by 1997 was going to be impossible. There were simply too many loose ends to tidy up. Volume 26 for example (‘An 1826 Schubertiad’) contains recordings from four different dates in 1994, March 1995, and February 1996 – shortly before the disc’s release. Christine Schäfer makes another appearance (a transfigured So lasst mich scheinen), as does John Mark Ainsley in top form for Nachthelle with men’s chorus, pronounced ‘damnably high’ at the time of its composition. One of my closest colleagues from Songmakers’ days, the invaluable baritone Richard Jackson, also sings a number of songs on this disc. Hyperion had undertaken to record not just the solo songs but all the piano-accompanied vocal music; this meant the ever-increasing appearance of choral singers at the sessions, more often than not conducted by the brilliant and versatile Stephen Layton. 1993 marked my first meeting with the German baritone Matthias Goerne. His particular genius, apart from his uncanny command of mezza voce in the pasaggio of the voice (as in the Schlegel Die Sterne), lies in his awareness of the differing interpretative choices that are possible with the tiniest variations of tempo and emphasis. He came into Hyperion’s sights at exactly the right time for two important discs: ‘Schubert and the Schlegels’ (together with Schäfer, Volume 27) recorded in early 1995, and Winterreise (Volume 30) recorded in the summer of 1996. He too ‘graduated’ to an exclusive recording contract, in his case with Decca.
There was only to be one further solo record, or at least I had hoped it would be a solo disc! This featured the songs of 1819–1820, sung by the Slovenian mezzo-soprano Marjana Lipovšek. On the day before the recording sessions in London she announced that the long Mayrhofer setting Einsamkeit did not, after all, suit her (she had had the music in a suitable key for a long time). At this late stage of the edition, when every allocation was being carefully measured, there was no scope simply to lose twenty minutes from a CD. With just under an hour of the disc recorded by Lipovšek, its issue was delayed (it was eventually Volume 29) to allow the gifted Canadian baritone Nathan Berg time to record the ‘missing’ Mayrhofer cantata. On reflection, it is amazing that there were not many more problems of this kind over the years.
The remainder of the discs were Schubertiads with different time-frames. Many of the artists who had contributed to the earlier issues were re-called to appear in these closing discs – Ann Murray and Philip Langridge, both as fresh as ever, Stephen Varcoe for the very first Schubert songs of all (Volume 33), an array of tenors – our old friends Martyn Hill and Adrian Thompson as well as new blood in Paul Agnew, Daniel Norman, Toby Spence and James Gilchrist. Anthony Rolfe Johnson returned for the Heine settings from Schwanengesang on the last disc of all (Volume 37). Neal Davies sang some of the bass songs with skill and relish. On occasion important artists, such as Nancy Argenta and Lynne Dawson, played a smaller role than befitted their experience – there were also a large number of fine artists who did not participate (such as that great Schubertian, Ian Partridge, a matter of personal regret) for no better reason than that life did not work out that way. Nevertheless this series had turned, without trying, into a kind of aural snapshot of the gifted lieder singers of an entire generation. This provided a growing incentive to include appearances, even if brief, by younger singers who had come to prominence since we had begun in 1987, provided they would not mind singing only a few songs. Thus in the final volumes of the series we find a line-up of international sopranos: the voluminously voiced Christine Brewer, an American star able to negotiate the roller-coasters of early Schubert with astonishing ease, the German Juliane Banse (Schumann Volume 3, 1998), the British Geraldine McGreevy (the latter’s Schwestergruss is a personal favourite, and we made a Wolf recital for Hyperion in 2000). Among the male singers there are the German–Canadian tenor Michael Schade, the British baritone Christopher Maltman (Schumann Volume 5, 2001), the Dutch Maarten Koningsberger (the latter featured prominently in Volume 28), the German Stephan Loges, and the Canadian Gerald Finley who plays a large and distinguished role in Volume 36, as well as shouldering the supplementary baritone songs for Volumes 38 to 40. These latter three records (issued for the first time here) also feature the compelling artistry of the soprano Susan Gritton, the mezzo Stella Doufexis (Schumann Volume 4, 1998), the perennial Ann Murray, as well as one of the most compelling tenors of the new British wave, Mark Padmore.
Perhaps we have talked enough about the singers. Godfather to the series was the late Eric Sams, a beloved friend and simply the greatest authority on lieder in the world. He saw, and ‘marked’, every one of my essays for the series and painstakingly turned me into a more competent writer whilst always remaining encouraging. (With a book of this size the decision not to reprint nearly a million words of commentaries on the songs themselves was inevitable. These are being prepared for separate publication by the Yale University Press.) In musicological realms I am also indebted to that great American lieder scholar and good friend, Susan Youens. We must not forget four wonderful intrumentalists – Thea King (clarinet, Volume 9), David Pyatt (horn, Volume 37), Marianne Thorsen (violin, Volume 39) and Sebastian Comberti (cello, Volume 40). Eugene Asti played a piano duet accompaniment with me on Volume 36, as well as being responsible for a remarkable completion of the choral version of Gesang der Geister with piano. The work of the late Reinhard van Hoorickx, fervent Schubertian and indefatigable editor of fragments, features on very many of these discs. The production teams were crucial: the gifted Martin Compton and Antony Howell in the earlier days, the ever-patient and genial Mark Brown and Julian Millard in the later, and on a few occasions, Tony Faulkner – all great men in their field without whose work this series could never have been imagined. I have already mentioned the work of the series’ photographer, the enchanting Malcolm Crowthers, and there are also all the piano-tuners (will we ever forget the legendary Steinway No 340?), page-turners and the singers (here we go again!) who have sung with us in a choral capacity. The super-industrious Nick Flower at Hyperion Records is master of all things to do with editorial layout and printing; without him this handsome reissue, immeasurably beautified by the work of Martha Griebler (b1948), would not have been possible. Griebler’s almost uncanny brush and pencil evocations of Schubert and his circle have delighted audiences at various exhibitions at the Schubertiade in Schwarzenberg. A book of her drawings entitled Franz Schubert – Zeichnungen is in preparation; the publishers may be contacted at www.bibliothekderprovinz.at.
Despite all manner of setbacks and difficulties Hyperion remains, under Simon Perry’s direction, the human face of the record industry. This is to do with the hovering spirit of Ted. I can see him now in my mind during long sessions – hunched over the poets’ texts and taking notes of the performers’ departures (for various editorial reasons) from the texts that were to be published in the booklets. He proofread everything personally, and edited all my notes himself. We both got better as we went along. But right from the beginning he was behind me every inch of the way: no pianist could have managed a project such as this without the support of powerful back-up – the singers appeared as if by magic, their fees negotiated, their travel arranged. The discs appeared on time, bright, shiny, and perfectly packaged. All there was for me to do was to rehearse, play and write. And Ted allowed me to do just this without any fuss. The series really belongs to him – after all he paid for it, and not only in terms of his money.
Therefore I wish to dedicate this re-issue of Schubert’s songs to the memory of Ted Perry whom many of us regarded as a mentor. Here’s to you Ted, and here’s to the great composer that brought us so close together. To say Hyperion has done him proud would be rash; let us simply say it has done its best, as has each and every artist involved in the project. And doing one’s best is surely what defines the true Schubertian, the neophyte as well as the professional, at whatever level of their achievement. That Schubert himself understood this accounts for that unique musical phenomenon, the Schubertiad, where no one who had brought their best offering to the table was turned away, and where the composer’s genius always encouraged emerging talent.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2005