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D954 is a work for mixed chorus (mainly TTBB with a few bars at the end of the strophe where the female chorus joins in) accompanied by a small wind orchestra – oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trombones. It was composed for the consecration of the new bell at the Church of the Holy Trinity (the Dreifaltigskeitkirche) in the Alsergrund on 2 September 1828. It was there that Beethoven’s body was taken in procession on the day of his funeral in March 1827; Schubert was one of the torch-bearers. It was also for the so-called ‘Alserkirche’ that the Mass in E flat major was conceived; the composer was well known there through the ‘Regens chori’ Michael Leitermayer who was a fellow-pupil of Schubert’s first teacher Michael Holzer, and a friend of Ferdinand Schubert.
The biggest of the bells had cracked 23 years previously, and was replaced as a result of public subscription. There was a great deal of interest in this event as an article in the Wiener allgemeine Theaterzeitung (27 September 1828) makes clear [‘Freudig beschaute die zahlreiche herbey geströmte Volksmenge das hell blinkende Kunstwerk’ – ‘It was with joy that the throng of people gazed at the brightly shining art-work’]. We shall see in a moment why this enthusiasm was an important factor for Schubert. John Reed refers to the work as written in Schubert’s ‘best Haydn manner’ but it is rather more inventive than that for all the fact that it is a commissioned pièce d’occasion. The composer has chosen a sonority for the accompaniment which suggests deep tolling – the combination of horns and bassoons with the male voices being particularly effective for this. The 6/8 Bewegung in a ‘Langsam feierlich’ tempo has the bell swinging from side to side; the word ‘hell’ (bright) announces the addition of oboes to the accompanying texture as clarinets paint a bright metallic ping on off-beat accents. The poem is in three strophes, and the author is Friedrich Reil (who wrote the text for Das Lied im Grünen). Schubert sets these strophically; the poem says that the sound of the bells proclaims faith in the Creator (strophe 1), hope of His mercy (strophe 2), and belief in His love – ‘for harmony can only resound through love’. (strophe 3). It is this last verse which also mentions the possibility of catastrophe, and the hope that the bell will never sound in time of misfortune, strife, fire or storm. It is here that Schubert’s dark scoring, both instrumental and vocal, really comes into its own.
It is a mystery why Schubert should have written a very different piano-accompanied song (D955) with exactly the same title, to a poem of Christoph Kuffner (his sole setting of this poet). The manuscript is dated August 1828 (as is the Schwanengesang) so the song could hardly have been conceived as a spin-off of the instrumentally accompanied work which was only performed in early September; it must have been conceived at more or less the same time. The fact that it was published so quickly after its composition suggests, as John Reed puts it, ‘some topical interest’.
One thinks back to the genesis of the Grillparzer Ständchen where the composer misunderstood what was required of him, and quickly provided a second version of the serenade for the required female choral forces. Could these songs be a result of a similar organisational fiasco or change of mind? Is it possible that for the consecration of their new bell, the organisers of the ceremony at the Trinity Church had first proposed an extant religious text which emphasised a trinity of virtues? The opening of the passage of St Paul which includes ‘Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe’ (and which inspired Kuffner’s poem) also refers to a ‘klingende Schelle’ or tinkling bell. The Wiener allgemeine Theaterzeitung refers to the ‘Dreyeinigkeit geweihte Glocke’ – the bell dedicated to the Trinity. Schubert might have written this song in response to that commission in short score (thus piano-accompanied); he might even have envisaged an organ accompaniment.
Is it then possible that the ceremony was re-thought at the last minute, and that Friedrich Reil was approached to write a new text where the bell was actually mentioned? The idea of the trinity of Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe would have been too good to lose however, so perhaps this explains why the new poem has the same title, and why Reil worked these three crucial words into his text. If Schubert was only then asked to set this second set of words to music, he did so at great speed, and scored the work for a number of singers and instruments.
The texture of the Kuffner setting also somehow suggests a number of singers and instruments; the accompaniment is somehow unconvincing as piano music, having about it the unmistakable feel of an oratorio aria in reduction. My guess would be that this Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe was already completed when D954 was mooted, and that Schubert offered the leftover (actually a more musically sophisticated piece) to Diabelli, perhaps newly reworked as a piano-accompanied song from a different format. The publisher, knowing the great public interest in the bell, and knowing there was always a ‘niche market’ for religious songs, contrived to bring it out by 6 October, an astonishingly quick turnaround for those days. We thus have the strange situation of Schubert attempting to woo the populace by fair means or foul: with religious music at the same time as the suggestive frippery of some of Seidl’s Refrainlieder.
The song has always been something of an orphan. Capell ignores it entirely, and it makes an appearance on the concert platform with the greatest rarity. The music is solemn and takes its inspiration from Mozart’s Masonic music, particularly Sarastro’s prayers and pronouncements in Die Zauberflöte. The key of E flat (a trinity of accidentals) is also Magic Flute-inspired. Its cantata-like style, and its solemn division into separate sections according to the title, has encouraged us on this occasion to share the music between three tenors. A short four-bar introduction leads to the commands ‘Glaube!’ (John Mark Ainsley), ‘hoffe!’ (Anthony Rolfe Johnson), and ‘liebe!’ (Michael Schade). Each one of these is higher than the last, the most lyrical setting being preserved for the soulful cadence which makes up ‘liebe’. The rest of this introductory verse, music which begins darkly in C minor, moves through A flat major into D flat and thence back to the home key of E flat, is sung by Anthony Rolfe Johnson. The restless striding basses are characteristic of an earlier age (the Gellert and Sturm settings of C P E Bach come to mind) and sound rather awkward on the piano; on occasion one thinks some of this bass writing would better suit organ pedals. This section is by way of introduction to the three strophic verses which apostrophise faith, hope and love one by one.
The tempo changes to ‘Etwas geschwinder’ and the first of three identical little arias expounds on ‘Glaube’ – faith. This verse, beginning ‘Glaube fest an Gott un Herz!’, is sung by John Mark Ainsley. The music starts in the key of E flat minor, progresses to G flat major and thence to C flat major. This thicket of flats, as well as a rather turbulent left hand which is never at rest for a moment, makes the music look romantic; but it still seems old-fashioned in manner, or at least fashioned for church performance: the melismas on ‘Gott im Busen dir’ are dutifully echoed in a three-bar piano interlude made up of graciously falling passing notes which, apart from its ‘spelling’ in a slew of flats, might have been written a hundred years earlier. The use of diminished-chord harmony appropriate for the lies of mankind (‘Wenn auch Welt und Menschen lügen’) strikes an oddly modern note in this strangely hybrid context, as does the opening up of the flats into naturals (like lies brushed aside with enormous will-power) when the vocal line climbs chromatically up the stave traversing the friendlier flat-free clearings of G7 on its way back to E flat. It reaches this key of the trinity as if the true faith has been rediscovered.
‘Hoffe dir Unsterblichkeit’ (verse 3) is sung by Anthony Rolfe Johnson. The music is the same as for the preceding verse but one notices different details because of the new words. The dotted left-hand rhythm which precedes ‘Und hienieden bess’re Zeit!’ reminds one of the intermeshing of voice in piano in Aufenthalt bl, a song which displays as much determination as this, if rather less faith in humanity; the change into C flat major at the culmination of ‘Hoffnung ist ein schönes Licht’ seems inspired (one remembers the use of this same change of key, E flat to C flat, to denote starlight in the last verse of Abschied). The gradual dawning of day depicted at the end of the strophe is also well served by the opening out of the harmony. One must emphasise that these felicitous effects are the result of chord changes rather than because of any intrinsic charm in the piano writing. It is because this piece has such wooden, voice-dependent figurations for the piano that one is tempted to regard the score as a reduction of something else.
The third of this disc’s tenors, Michael Schade, makes his solo appearance for ‘Edel Liebe, fest und rein!’. The strophic E flat minor sounds a little severe for these words; perhaps it is because we have heard this music twice already. Schubert in his Rellstab phase would have made an adjustment to this section to paint love as the greatest of all three qualities, or certainly the most touching. Instead, the lecturing tone of this music seems rather unmagical for words which talk of love flowering in a glow of happiness. Love here is an academic proposition rather than a reality. The triumphal note inherent in ‘Muss der Liebe Sonne glühen’ (the chromatically ascending phrase back to the cadence in E flat major) is a more appropriate word-setting.
We return to Tempo I (and Anthony Rolfe Johnson) for the closing bars of the homily. This is the same music that has begun the song, a grave little aria where C minor warms into A flat major and then to D flat major, turns of the tonal screw which suggest a pastor warming to his Sunday sermon, and allowing his voice to rise slightly in pitch as he reaches the punch line. The palindromic structure of the whole piece is confirmed by a concluding repeat of the opening exhortations ‘Glaube, hoffe, liebe’, the latter word lovingly set as a higher, longer and more lingering note than before. This ‘liebe’ has taken us into the heady regions of G flat major. If we have glimpsed the world of romanticism in the settings of these words (again shared between the three singers) we return to a Classical mood for the final repeat of them. There is a sudden, and moving, switch back to E flat, and we hear once again ‘Glaube, hoffe, liebe’ in a less heady tessitura, this time ornamented by a mordent on the final word. (At this moment our singers allow themselves a moment of shared, concerted enthusiasm.) That this music is deeply felt is without question, but it has the piety of a public event about it and it is not, somehow, the Schubert of the lied, certainly not in 1828. We know that the writing of D954 was the result of a commission. If this work was also written, as I have suggested, as a result of a link with the Alserkirche, it would explain much. Nevertheless there is no arguing that this is a companion piece to the songs of Schwanengesang in terms of history and chronology, and its position in this recital emphasises that fact.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000
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