Schwanengesang, D957 Part 2

composer
August 1828, first published by Haslinger in May 1829
author of text

 
Whether by accident or design, the Schwanengesang is a Janus-like work that looks backwards as well as forwards. The seven settings of the poems of Ludwig Rellstab amplify and honour the poet’s connection with Beethoven, and establish Schubert’s right to be the great man’s successor. Just as Beethoven had proved that he was the greatest composer in Vienna by making sublime piano variations of Diabelli’s cobbler’s patch of a theme, we sense that these Rellstab poems would have been set in masterly fashion, whatever their merits. The composer has given his all to a poet who, in other circumstances, might not have detained him overlong. Such is the sheerly musical mastery displayed here that the listener knows that he is listening to great music whether or not he understands the words (millions have listened to Ständchen as a purely instrumental piece of music). This is not to say that the words do not matter in these works, or to deny that they have given rise to inspired musical analogies, but the listener’s enjoyment in the irresistible flow of vocal chamber music is paramount. This is the work of a genius in his thirties, at the height of his youthful powers, and of whom much more is expected. The Rellstab songs are, if you like, the lieder equivalent of Beethoven’s ‘Razumovsky’ Quartets.

We know, however, that the last music that Schubert heard in his brother’s house was a performance of a much later work by the same composer: he had begged for a Beethoven string quartet which is far removed from the ‘Razumovsky’ style – the great C sharp minor, Op 131. Poor ill Schubert became so excited by this music – indeed, he was one of the very few people in Vienna who would have been able to fathom its greatness – that the players feared that he would have a seizure. Beethoven was counted an avant-garde composer as much as he was a guardian of the sacred flame of Haydn and Mozart, and the fearlessness, not to say the sublimity, of these last quartets must have played their part in encouraging Schubert into similar bravery in his song explorations – certainly in terms of including an avant-garde element within a cycle written in Beethoven’s honour. That composer’s example showed that it was not for a great creator to sit on his laurels: he had to lead the public, by the nose if necessary, into the future. In these six Heine settings Schubert does just this. These songs are so far removed from Rellstab’s that it is as if we were comparing landscape with moonscape. That poet’s words had been expanded into music. But in the unfamiliar light and shadow of this vast, lunar terrain the strangely powerful words by a new icon of Romanticism are telescoped into some of the most powerfully concise and economical songs ever written. Thus the Rellstab Abschied could be seen, in the context of this cycle, as a farewell to the past, and the rumblings of Der Atlas as heralding the music of the future, yet both representing different sides of the same creative coin.

And Heine was very much the poet of the future. He had everything to appeal to the Schubertians (by the agenda of the reading-circle at the beginning of 1828 we know how much they were enthused by his work). Franz von Schober conducted these readings, and how this poet manqué, with his lumbering and pretentious Palingenesien sonnets, must have envied Heine – so well-travelled, so amusing, such a martyr to the pains of love (and respected, not derided for it), so talented. Heine must have seemed the coming man and, in many ways, he was. Here was humour and irony, the deepest feeling as well as the lightest touch, a mastery of prose as much as poetry, a modern voice that boded ill for the forces of political repression and cultural philistinism. And there was a pithy mode of expression in his poetry which had a Goethe-like directness and suitability for musical setting. Heine’s was a name unknown to Beethoven, and it was now up to Schubert to introduce them to each other. We shall see how presently.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000

Recordings

Schubert: Schwanengesang
CDA67657
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

No 08 of published cycle, No 1 of Part 2: Der Atlas  Ich unglücksel’ger Atlas! eine Welt
Track 14 on CDJ33037 [2'15] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 8 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [2'15] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 8 on CDA67657 [2'13]
No 09 of published cycle, No 2 of Part 2: Ihr Bild  Ich stand in dunkeln Träumen
Track 15 on CDJ33037 [2'55] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 9 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [2'55] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 9 on CDA67657 [2'33]
No 10 of published cycle, No 3 of Part 2: Das Fischermädchen  Du schönes Fischermädchen
Track 16 on CDJ33037 [2'30] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 10 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [2'30] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 10 on CDA67657 [2'08]
No 11 of published cycle, No 4 of Part 2: Die Stadt  Am fernen Horizonte
Track 17 on CDJ33037 [2'52] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 11 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [2'52] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 11 on CDA67657 [2'49]
No 12 of published cycle, No 5 of Part 2: Am Meer  Das Meer erglänzte weit hinaus
Track 18 on CDJ33037 [4'00] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 12 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [4'00] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 12 on CDA67657 [4'01]
No 13 of published cycle, No 6 of Part 2: Der Doppelgänger  Still ist die Nacht, es ruhen die Gassen
Track 19 on CDJ33037 [3'44] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 13 on CDS44201/40 CD37 [3'44] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 13 on CDA67657 [3'44]

Track-specific metadata for CDS44201/40 disc 37 track 13

No 13 (Part 2 No 6): Der Doppelgänger
Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-00-03719
Duration
3'44
Recording date
30 September 1999
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 37 – John Mark Ainsley, Anthony Rolfe Johnson & Michael Schade (CDJ33037)
    Disc 1 Track 19
    Release date: September 2000
    Deletion date: November 2011
    Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
  2. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 37 Track 13
    Release date: October 2005
    40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)