In the case of Frühlingslied, however, the presence of the piano transforms what had been originally conceived for unaccompanied male quartet (D914) into a beautiful solo song, personable and containing authentic Schubertian detail. The publisher Tobias Haslinger had commissioned the quartet to be included in his choral anthology Die deutschen Minnesänger. The wonderful Seidl quartet Grab und Mond appeared in this series, as did Wein und Liebe D901, but for some reason Frühlingslied for TTBB (in C major, rather than the A flat major of the solo version) was never published. In this form the manuscript was dated April 1827. Schubert made some adjustments to the word underlay in the quartet seemingly after the solo song had been written. The poem was passed in this version by the censor in June 1827, so we must assume that the work’s two versions were completed within two months of each other – i.e. between April and June 1827.
This piece is one of the most rarely heard in the Schubert repertory, not because of its quality but because of the strange circumstances of its composition and publication. We know nothing of the poet, nor the source of the text. A copy of the song (the manuscript is lost) was found in the 1890s among the papers of Rudolf Weinwurm who had been choirmaster of the Wiener Männergesang Verein, and in close contact with Schubert’s nephew Eduard Schneider. Weinwurm’s credentials are such as to allay any suspicion that his copy did not come from an impeccable provenance. But as it was such a late discovery, Frühlingslied is not to be found in the Peters Edition (always a disadvantage for a song’s progress through the world); and it was only just in time to be included in the Supplement volume (1897) of the Gesamtausgabe (the ten-volume song series had appeared between 1894 and 1895). Even today the music is not easy to come by if one does not have access to either the old collected edition, or Volume 14 of the new (1988).
Scholars are still discussing the work’s authenticity. This would be even more advisable in such cases as Die Erde and Vollendung (seemingly impeccably authenticated, but which have never convinced me, or my fingers, that they are really by Schubert). In Frühlingslied at least the authenticity of neither melody nor harmony is contested; it is only the piano accompaniment that comes into question. It is true that this is not completely typical of Schubert at his best: at times it seems dully chained to the vocal line, and there are moments of unusual pianistic awkwardness. But if someone other than Schubert made this arrangement, he is by far the most gifted person of the many who have attempted to impersonate the composer’s pianistic style. There is also a freedom in adapting the work for its new form (the first example is that the work begins forte in the choral version, pianissimo in the solo) which shows the confident hand of the work’s original creator. Another possibility of course was that it was done by another musician (Franz Lachner perhaps?) guided in general, if not in every last detail, by the composer himself. This would explain both the felicitous and uncharacteristic things about the piano writing.
A flat major is a key that we already associate with Schubertian spring music because of the song Frühlingsglaube. In Weinwurm’s copy, the composer’s use of the word ‘Voce’ to designate the vocal line is typical of works of this period, and there is an appropriately Italianate feel about the weaving triplets of this purling cantilena. The lambent triplet accompaniment is similar to that of another 1827 song, Heimliches Lieben. In Frühlingslied the softly rippling arpeggios are enlivened by a touch of spring-like energy in the left hand’s dotted rhythms, semiquavers which have to line up with the right-hand triplets to avoid sounding grotesquely clipped (this is as good an indication as any in Schubert’s work of the performing practice of the time regarding triplets and dotted rhythms). In verse 1, at ‘Durch des weisen Königs Siegel’ there had originally been a reference to King Solomon (‘durch Salomos Zaubersiegel’) which perhaps gives us a second clue (the first is his name) to Aaron Pollak’s religious faith. In the choral version Schubert himself changed these words to refer less specifically to a wise king, and we must assume he would have done so for the solo version as well if he had had the manuscript to hand.
The music for verse 2 changes into D flat major and the accompaniment moves into gently throbbing triplets, absolutely right for the imagery of ‘Der Frühling schwebt auf die Gefilde’. There is no attempt to include in this version the beautiful contrapuntal touches between tenors and baritones at this point in the choral version. Instead, the right hand of the piano is given some moments of counter-melody and some effective harmonic suspensions. As elsewhere in this song, the melody and harmony are unquestionably by Schubert, so the music sounds genuine; but it seems a pity that the piano doggedly shadows the vocal line to such an extent. The music for verse 3 is an exact repeat of verse 2.
At ‘Empfanget denn mit trautem Grusse’ (verse 4) the music returns to the home key of A flat major, changes time signature to 3/4, and takes on more of a celebratory swing. We are reminded of how Der Hirt auf dem Felsen also ends with an invocation to spring with an up-beat change of time and mood. The dotted rhythm of the vocal line is echoed at a distance of a crotchet by a similarly cheeky piano figuration, an idea that is adopted from the dialogue between the tenors and basses in the choral version. At ‘Der hold uns winkt zum Hochgenusse’ semiquavers, indicative of rising sap and new flowerings, begin to enter the accompaniment. The vocal line (at ‘Wonne schwellt’) is decorated with a turn like a garland at a spring festival. The piano writing in this coda is not typical of Schubert the lieder composer, but it does recall the piano writing for some of the chamber music, in particular the works for violin and piano which are such a feature of 1827. The progress from pianissimo to forte at ‘der weihend uns mit leisem Kusse / Des Daseins Rosenbahn erhellt’ is achieved in a thoroughly instrumental manner, as is the coda where the final lines for the voice are accompanied by gently swirling semiquaver arpeggios high in the keyboard. In the postlude these cascade downwards from the top of the piano to the very bottom, all on an unchanging chord of A flat major. This makes a charming general effect, something which may be said of the song as a whole, which recalls the pot-pourri fragrances of salon and drawing-room. The text, flowery in every sense, is somewhat to blame for this (if blame is the right word), but then Heimliches Lieben makes a similar impression. It is the presence of that song in the authentic Schubert catalogue for 1827 that seems to confirm that this arrangement of Frühlingslied came from Schubert’s hand in the same year.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000