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Der zürnenden Diana, D707

First line:
Ja, spanne nur den Bogen, mich zu töten
composer
December 1820; published in February 1825 as Op 36 No 1
author of text

 
In Diana's towering anger she is a force of destruction, albeit a dazzlingly beautiful one. Actaeon was the son of Aristeus, son of Apollo. He was famed as a hunter and one day was devoured by his own dogs on Mount Cithaeron. This accident was explained in a number of ways, chief among them that the young man had looked on Artemis (Diana) in her nakedness as she bathed in a spring. In revenge the goddess incited the pack of fifty hounds to tear their master to pieces. Mayrhofer refuses to allow dogs into his narrative but in other respects it is a reworking of the Actaeon myth. Mayrhofer uses the classics often enough to make metaphors applicable to modern behaviour; this poem seems to say that man should happily take responsibility for living life to the hilt; careful, judicious behaviour which denies the life force seems impossible for the passionate, poetic being. It is better to grasp one's chances with both hands, whatever the consequences. This is a brave and reckless philosophy and one which Schubert espoused, at least for long enough to catch the venereal infection which blighted the last five years of his life and possibly killed him. In various sad letters he bemoans his state of health in that period, but it is notable that he never once voiced a regret for giving himself up to the passions that led to the illness, and neither did he subscribe to the notion, still prevalent in some circles today, that the visitation of such illness is punishment from on high. It is not often that the dedicatee of a Schubert song relates directly to its subject but this seems to be the case with this work. Katherina Lacsny was the 'Dame aux Camélias' of Vienna, a singer and courtesan who according to one of her besotted admirers Moritz von Schwind ('What a woman!') was 'in ill repute all over the city.' She suffered from consumption and, again according to Schwind, seems to have known Schubert for a long time. Frau von Lacsny was perhaps the inspiration behind the figure of a naked lady at one of the Schubertiad charades in 1826, but she seems to have been an object almost of veneration among the young men who knew her; her intelligence and conversation were almost legendary, as was her ability to reconcile her style of life with a sense of dignity and worth. To have dedicated this song to her says much for Schubert's lack of regard for petty Viennese gossip.

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

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 14 – Thomas Hampson
CDJ33014
Schubert: The Songmakers' Almanac Schubertiade
CDD220102CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive ServiceDownload currently discounted

Details

Track 2 on CDD22010 CD1 [5'32] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
Track 15 on CDJ33014 [5'53]
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD23 [5'53] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Track-specific metadata for CDD22010 disc 1 track 2

Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-84-13102
Duration
5'32
Recording date
24 November 1983
Recording venue
St Barnabas's Church, North Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Songmakers' Almanac Schubertiade (CDD22010)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: March 1997
    Deletion date: March 2010
    2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
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