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Hektors Abschied, D312

First line:
Will sich Hektor ewig von mir wenden
composer
published in April 1826 as Op 58 No 1
author of text

 
In the Iliad, Hector's farewell to his wife Andromache and his son Astyanax (recounted with greater humanity, humour and range of expression than managed by Schiller) takes place in Book 6 of the epic—before all his heroic exploits against the Achaeans, including the combat with Ajax, and the slaying of Patroclus. Schiller (like Shakespeare, no purist when it came to improving on his sources—as is evident in the imaginary meeting engineered between the Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth in Maria Stuart) prefers to place the farewell just before Hector faces the invincible Achilles. Schiller draws on the laments of Andromache after she hears of Hector's death, and the avowal of her love at the end of the Iliad, when Hector's body is at last recovered, and telescopes the devotion of the spouses into a single poem. Achilles has already slain Andromache's father and seven brothers, and her later story is no less tragic; as a spoil of war she was passed to Neoptolemus, Achilles' son who slew Astyanax and eventually bequeathed her as a chattel to another king. Life was hard for the Greek heroes, but much worse, it seems, for their women.

Capell is right to call the music for this piece 'formal and stately.' No music of the common people this, and even Lied form seems inappropriately domestic. This is an aria for doomed royalty, and it rolls with a dignity denied the love stories of mortals. Schubert has discovered a vein of (what was one day going to be known as) Italian grand opera style for Andromache's opening utterance. In the introduction, pregnant and pulsating F minor chords seem to ache to support a bel canto imprecation, and they are not disappointed; the opening vocal lines look forward to the young Verdi in their portent. The idea of the little boy to be orphaned brings a flute or oboe solo in the relative major, and again the formulae of Italian opera seem to suit the grandiose formality of ancient times—as Bellini, for example, was soon to demonstrate in Norma. Hector's music is less inspired, as if he had other things on his mind than trying to placate the wife. A sudden change of harmony (with 'Teures Weib', optimistic sharps replacing underworld flats) ushers in music of heroic resolve with the type of rising sequences used to greater effect elsewhere in the mythological songs. Pergamus, the citadel of Troy, fails to sound redoubtable, but then it was on the verge of annihilation anyway. Hector repeats his words and, the second time round, his vocal line bathes itself even deeper in the Stygian stream with a mordent shudder. Andromache now has an aria in A minor ('Nimmer lausch ich') most remarkable for the modulations in the repetition of its last line ('deine Lieb' im Lethe stirbt') where Hector's love suffers an audible sea-change in the modulating waters of Lethe. His closing aria ('All mein Sehnen') is as much a cabaletta as Andromache's opening has been cavatina. It is a generously open-hearted tune with a clever chromatic descent on 'in des Lethe stillen Strom versenken' and the obligatory recitative to mark the tumult outside, but Schubert was much happier with Andromache's wifely grief. Schiller's words do not enable the young composer to cut the son of Priam—and Troy's greatest hero—down to size and invest him with believable human feelings. If you have too much to do with Olympus you are scarcely human after all—and larger-than-life characters made out of marble can sometimes fail to touch us. The statue of Memnon, in the next song, is the great exception to that rule.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 14 – Thomas Hampson
CDJ33014

Details

Track 6 on CDJ33014 [5'06]
Track 3 on CDS44201/40 CD11 [5'06] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Track-specific metadata for CDS44201/40 disc 11 track 3

Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-92-01406
Duration
5'06
Recording date
8 October 1991
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 11 Track 3
    Release date: October 2005
    40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
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