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Lebensmut, D937

First line:
Fröhlicher Lebensmut
composer
Summer (?) 1828, first published by Gotthard in 1872
author of text

 
A reading of the poem shows how the composer was inspired to new musical solutions by unusual imagery. He had written songs about manly courage before (indeed the striding Schulze Lebensmut of 1826 is in the same key of B flat, and shares some of this song’s characteristics), but Rellstab’s words about the ‘quick blood’ being pumped through the body in joyful surges, as well as the imagery of a gushing fountain of life, gives rise to a unique accompaniment and a vocal line of the utmost energy. Blood is liquid after all, but thicker than water. Thus the similarity to the pianistic formulae of Auf dem Wasser zu singen is noticeable without being exact. Rellstab’s surges of nature are not to be heard rippling on the edge of a lake in undulating watery cascades; heavier and more viscous chords circulate through Lebensmut like a whirring musical illustration of William Harvey’s scientific discovery. The pianist’s hands leap up the keyboard as a metaphor for a rush of blood to the head. The speed and the waltz time signature may encourage the listener to think of this piece as a dance; but it is almost impossible to dance to music which emphasises the second half of the third beat of so many bars in a deliberate off-beat fashion. This music disrupts the free-and-easy rhythms of dancing – it is rather about leaping, endless endeavour and carpe diem, exertion that is heart-breaking, or more likely heart-stopping.

Only a clot blocking the veins of inspiration prevented the composer from finishing this song at a stroke; the first verse is the only one to be set, and the postlude is lacking. This is both good and bad. Good because the form in which this song has been left to us means that it can be performed, convincingly enough, as a strophic song simply using the introduction as a postlude – this is how the Peters Edition has printed it for more than a hundred years; bad because a completely strophic version of this song is probably not what Schubert had in mind. Like Herbst, which also remained separate from the final Rellstab cycle, the composer may have counted Lebensmut one of his failures, not as a piece of music as such, but as a strophic construction. If we read the last verse of Rellstab’s poem we see that some change of mood – as from major to minor – is called for at the mention of death in the third verse. (This is certainly the case with the varied harmonic colours of the Schulze Lebensmut which was written in modified strophic form.) Some commentators believe that the composer originally had it in mind for the Rellstab Lebensmut to head the group of songs in what later became known as Schwanengesang. In any case, for whatever reason, Schubert, possibly looking ahead to problems in the later verses which he did not care to solve, abandoned the sketch after composing only one verse.

But what a verse it is, certainly in terms of unflagging energy! And there is a need to keep the momentum going. As in In der Ferne from Schwanengesang a convincing musical flow is threatened by the poet’s choice of metre. In Lebensmut a heavy syllable at the end of each line (‘Lebensmut’, ‘Blut’ and so on) makes for an end-stopped effect despite the fact that some of the lines must enjamb in order to make sense. This problem is not entirely solved by Schubert where the last beat of almost every bar is a crotchet with a suggestion of an involuntary musical full stop (another reason, perhaps, why he did not continue with the music for later verses). This makes it doubly important for the accompaniment to push forward for fear of leaving sentences in mid-air as a succession of single-bar phrases, each one a bold flourish, but not adding up to an organic unity.

There are some wonderfully piquant harmonic moments that are probably noticed less than they should be in the onrush of music. In the first strophe’s sixth line (‘Ehe der Geist verglüht’) the last syllable – ‘verglüht’ – is set to a high G flat harmonised by a pulsating diminished-seventh chord. The singer must hold this heroic note for four whole beats; after a crotchet the ‘spelling’ of that G flat changes to an F sharp as the harmony beneath it transforms itself into D7. This chord opens out into G minor as the top note nudges a semitone higher and becomes a silvery G at ‘Schöpft aus der klaren Flut’. The effect of this change to a new key is of a great difficulty successfully surmounted. The next time we hear ‘Ehe der Geist verglüht’ there is another held G flat for four beats. But this time the ‘spelling’ remains G flat despite the D7 chords in the piano. Although the vocal line once again rises a semitone to G natural, the supporting harmony is E flat major this time – still a flat key, followed by a move to the subdominant which strengthens the élan of the return to B flat major five bars later. All of this harmonic variety reinforces the sense of elation.

This is one of Schubert’s highest and least comfortable songs in terms of vocal tessitura – comparable to the Leitner fragments composed in 1827 (Fröhliches Scheiden and Sie in jedem Liede). Even if the composer had the tenor Ludwig Titze in mind to sing this song, the high A on the word ‘Flut’ and the two B flats on ‘fröhlichen Lebensmut’ would discourage most singers. We lack the working sketches for most of Schubert’s songs, but it seems that he might have initially conceived a number of them in different keys from those of the fair copies. His first thoughts seem not to have taken account of such considerations as vocal practicality – and certainly marketability. It may have been that if Lebensmut had gone on to the next stage of creative refinement it might have been modified in terms of its tonality. (It would have been an impossible vocal challenge to place this work in its present key next to Liebesbotschaft). This is rather a pity as a Schwanengesang beginning with a B flat major Lebensmut, and continuing with a G major Liebesbotschaft would have prompted fond parallels with the opening songs – Das Wandern and Wohin? – from Die schöne Müllerin.

The autograph of this fragment breaks off after one verse – all that is printed in the Gesamtausgabe. The Peters Edition prints all three verses of Rellstab’s poem but, as discussed above, it is very likely that the composer would somehow have refashioned his music for the last of these. In any case, the poet’s original words do not properly fit the music at this point (and are thus changed in Peters). On this disc we perform the first two of Rellstab’s strophes in the belief that Schubert intended to write a strophic song at least to this point.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 37 – John Mark Ainsley, Anthony Rolfe Johnson & Michael Schade
CDJ33037Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40

Details

Track 5 on CDJ33037 [2'03] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 3 on CDS44201/40 CD36 [2'03] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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