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This song has a symphonic breadth and intensity, built on as big an arched span as the huntress-goddess's bow, and entirely typical of the bold experiments in form of the 1820 songs. On the printed page the poem is rather a short one but, unusually for his treatment of this poet's texts, the composer reserves the right to repeat passages at will, entirely appropriate for the youth's states of mind and body: obsessed by female beauty (repetition is a sign of obsession after all) and then wounded and in a delirium as his life trickles away. The tempo marking in the original version is 'Feurig' ('fiery')—rather more helpful than the 'Risoluto' marking which led me, as a student, to take the song at a much too slow pace. Practising at the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh, I suddenly found Peter Pears in the room, eyes flashing with Olympian anger, so strongly did he feel the song faster, a tempo which would reflect the terrifying anger of Diana. Of course this Schwung also helps launch the vocal line into the firmament, whereas in many a performance it remains grounded and difficult to breathe, resulting in an earlier death for the singer (of asphyxiation!) than Schubert here intended. The accompanying figure, an onrush of triplets which find their mark as they bear down on the accented third beat, sweeps forward for thirty two bars. A defiant 'ich werd' es nie bereuen' and then we are off for another fourteen, uncertain as to whether the marvellous reckless momentum of the vocal line is propelled by Diana's anger in the piano, or shudders of ecstasy from the protagonist, now with nothing to lose by open hubris. The triplets are replaced by a succession of tiny semiquaver tremors, and the modulation into 'Den Sterbenden wird noch dein Bild erfreuen' is worthy of a swansong sung in the hour of execution, heady in the extreme, a yearning passing note in the piano repeated ten times as we are suspended in a sweet masochistic daze. The long passing note on 'Schleier' is a metaphor for the veil which momentarily conceals the heavenly harmony of Diana's limbs, and then falls away to expose the chord in its unadorned nakedness. After 'Dein Pfeil, er traf' (the least convincing part of the song, for it seems a less decisive moment musically than it should be) the triplets return but drained of their strength and anger. Instead Schubert somehow achieves a vocal line which burbles in a viscous flood of sound suggestive of the flow of blood. When 'Dein Pfeil, er traf' is recapitulated, and the last four lines of the poem are repeated in their wake, all the singer's reserves of strength and emotion are called on one last time for a pioneer Liebestod; pauses and gaps in the vocal line signify failing strength and loss of consciousness as the life-force ebbs away before our ears. Richard Capell wrote that the youth's feelings seem 'unnatural and picturesque', and although it is true that we do not believe in this Actaeon as a real-life figure, the words, unconsciously comical in this context, probably describe a good many of the passions of the Schubert circle. The defiance of both bourgeois morality and the dictates of religion, are very much a real part of the credo of composer and poet.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991
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