In the catalogue of Schubert’s works, apart from the one compiled by G Nottebohm, who was enlightened by me, the poem of the composition Heimliches Lieben is listed as being by the Graz poet K G von Leitner. But it has for its authoress the well-known daughter of Karschin, Frau von Klenke, and starts ‘Myrtill, wenn deine Lippen mich berühren’ and has the title An Myrtill. I myself have seen a song composed to this latter, original, text among the estate of the Court actor, Heinrich Anschütz. My mother’s teacher, Professor Julius Schneller, sent it to her, with the title and the opening altered, together with some others which he had particularly liked, and he either forgot to name the authoress or did not know himself who the words were by. My mother thought it so very well suited to composition that she sent it, with many others, to Schubert. I first discovered the original title and opening through a sheet of music offered me for sale (it too was from Anschütz’s estate); and from some biographical notes in Deutschlands Dichterinnen, an album of poetry, I found the name of the poet or rather the poetess.
It seems that without realising it Schubert had composed a song to a text by Karoline Klenke, daughter of the ‘Naturdichterin’ Anna Luise Karschin (1722-1791) and mother of Helmina von Chézy who had collaborated with Schubert in Rosamunde in 1823 – a theatrical debacle which despite the beautiful music he wrote for it could hardly have been one of his happiest memories. The text for Heimliches Lieben seems to have been one of Marie Pachler’s particular favourites. In placing the song at the beginning of the collection of songs dedicated to her the composer acknowledges this as her lied, composed under her roof and at her suggestion. The memoirs of Leitner’s mentor, the history and philosophy professor Julius Schneller (1840) imply, very discreetly, that the poem might have had a shared secret significance for him and Marie. (Perhaps it was Schneller who first substituted ‘O du’ for Klenke’s original ‘Myrtill’.) One always had a suspicion that the companionship of the worthy brewer Karl Pachler might have been insufficiently stimulating for such a gifted musician and artist, but the tenor of the poem makes clear that whatever might have passed between Julius Schneller and Marie Pachler, respectability was maintained by a veil of discretion.
John Reed writes of the Leitner style exemplified by this song as being ‘tinged with Gemütlichkeit’ but he is not uncritical of the piece as a whole. Richard Capell’s view is equally ambivalent:
It is not a very characteristic piece. Nothing cries out ‘Schubert’ when the page is opened. The song is in the nature of a period piece, but the elegance and the sentiment are charming. Behold Schubert in the drawing-room! He must have heard much young ladies’ music at biedermeierisch parties; and now, perhaps, he said he would show how, with just as thin a texture, the thing might be done delightfully. The song … has the merit of preserving the atmosphere of the drawing-rooms of the 1820s with some poetic idealisation; and moreover, it is most gratefully vocal. The melody that sails above the piano’s undulations is an irresistible invitation to the singer.
This is certainly modified rapture – it is rare to read such phrases as ‘period piece’ and ‘thin texture’ in a song which is then described as irresistible, particularly to the singer. In the midst of many singers’ enthusiasm for this piece in my student years, I also felt uncomfortable with it. Gerald Moore once told me in the 1970s that his ‘bugbear’, his least-favourite song by the master, was Sei mir gegrüsst. I then confessed to him that mine was Heimliches Lieben because it employs a vein of drawing-room sentimentality that one finds almost nowhere else in Schubert’s songs. The pathos of those pivoting oscillations between the third of the scale, the sharpened supertonic and the tonic (D to C sharp back to D and then drooping to B flat on the words ‘Du, wenn deine Lippen mich berühren’) suggested seasickness to the young accompanist. Such swooning-in-tone soon afterwards became the stuff of sugary salon valentines, and a commonplace of the musical vocabulary of the Victorians. One has only to compare another work from 1827, the celebrated G flat Impromptu for piano, to know how the composer can use a triplet-accompanied melody to spin music of the deepest and purest emotion. Auf dem Strom with horn obligato uses a similar formula – an Italianate melody accompanied by ceaseless triplets – without suggesting the salon.
But what Capell says in praise of Heimliches Lieben is equally true: it is indeed ‘most gratefully vocal’ in that way which suggests a knowledge of Italian cantilena (of which the Metastasio songs on this disc show Schubert was a master). The unceasing triplets, encompassing a range of a tenth and more in the left hand, support the voice in a way that Bellini would have understood and applauded. This left-hand stretching is hardly typical of Schubert’s song-accompaniment style, and one wonders whether this writing, including the delicately turned trills and the singing right-hand melody, might have been fashioned especially for Marie Pachler with her playing style in mind.
It is clear that the composer is able to make a salon stylisation as easily as an Italian one. And if he is too much the gentleman truly to lampoon Rossini, and appears to join his camp at the same time as guying the Italian style, Schubert may well have intended to poke gentle fun at the style of music admired by young ladies at their ‘biedermeierisch parties’, as Capell calls them. In doing so he seems to effortlessly ennoble an empty style with touches of genuine magic; almost everything Schubert touches, even in spirit of fun, turns to gold. I now hear the piece in the same way as Capell: a gentle parody upon which so much care has been lavished that it has become delightful rather than amusing.
The tastes of the Graz audiences were less advanced than those of Vienna. Marie Pachler herself was no doubt full of sentiment and not yet cynical about certain musical clichés which already bored the big city. So just as Schubert cultivated a deliberately rustic style for songs about fishermen, farmers, hunters – working ditties sung by honest working-class folk – he was able to create a ‘Graz style’ in honour of the good-hearted musical provinces. This is less rustic than cosy and trusty – a portrait of a safe and innocently domesticated life away from the metropolis. Schubert’s ‘bread and butter’ letter to Marie Pachler makes clear that he regarded ‘cordiality’ and ‘openness’ as typical of Graz (and not of Vienna). ‘At Graz I soon recognised an artless and sincere way of being together’ Schubert wrote. In that recognition there was also born a sympathy for Leitner’s verse: the full-hearted widower of Der Winterabend, the courting fisherman of Des Fischers Liebesglück, the genuinely philosophical monk of Der Kreuzzug, the starry-eyed observer of the heavens of Die Sterne all have an innocence and artlessness about them. There is a side to them that could be thought of as sentimental and cloying, but like Normal Rockwell’s idealisations of middle America, they represent a place where people are not spoiled, where they still believe in old-fashioned values and live their lives accordingly.
Heimliches Lieben was born of the same impulse. Indeed, as we have seen, Schubert thought it was a Leitner song and treated it as such. With hindsight, and knowing something of the poet who was later to become a paragon of marital devotion we realise that the piece has an entirely different character from Leitner’s verse. Not for him a clandestine relationship of this sort, although even the passion described in the poem is controlled by the necessity for respectability.
In true salon style the long piano introduction announces the opening vocal melody in embellished and extended form. The ‘sentimental’ melody has been wonderfully shaped to reflect the meaning of the words: the dip in the tune (from repeated Ds to C sharps) at ‘deine Lippen mich berühren’ implies only a glancing brush of a kiss, fleeting enough to disturb the equilibrium of the vocal line only by a semitone. Other words and phrases are equally aptly painted: the more decisive dotted rhythms (sensitive to the prosody) of ‘die Seele mir entführen’, the emotional jump of a seventh for ‘Beben’ and so on. And all the while the melody is accompanied by unceasing triplets, seraphically supportive.
A yearning interlude leads to a second verse which modulates into D flat major for the glowing colours of its more passionate sentiments. If these words were to be truly reflected in song the result would be wild indeed; but as Reed says ‘Klenke’s Sapphic ode has had the raw passion drained out of it’ and the triplets remain as angelic as ever. Verse 3 is a rondo-like repetition of the first strophe; here the perilous nature of a life hanging on a thread is once again admirably suited to that sentimental vocal line where the singer rocks between semitone intervals like a tightrope-walker judging every tiny footstep to negotiate his safety.
Verse 4 embarks on an orgy of chromaticism. The composer must have amused himself by constructing a vocal line for the first two lines of the strophe which are effectively set as a chromatic scale rising in eight semitones from A to F. Once more the Neapolitan relationship of F major and D flat major is exploited for all it’s worth; and once again we can sense the wry smile of the composer as he knowingly exploits a stock-in-trade salon mannerism. The music for verse 5 is a repeat of this emotionally heated music, and then the composer uses the words again for a coda of new material, perhaps the most beautiful section because the most truly Schubertian, of the whole piece. This is introduced by a dotted-rhythm motif in the left hand which continues subtly to steer the softly enraptured musings of the singer. The repeat of the words come to an end with a vocal climax on ‘für mich zu schlagen’; another composer might have ended the song here, but if Schubert is set on writing a salon song then it must have a typically lingering farewell. This cliché is wonderfully redeemed by the musical quality of this envoi: a beautiful cello-like counter-melody deep in the bass entwines with the treble to suggest the male hero singing in secret duet with the female. Perhaps this is why this bass line recalls the music used to accompany mention of heroes (‘Heroen’) in the bass line of An die Leier.
Schubert, like Richard Strauss, occasionally wrote music to please others. There were comparatively few people in his life whom he was prepared to flatter in this way: Therese Grob, his brother Ferdinand, poet friends and hosts like Mayrhofer, Schober and Bruchmann, members of the Esterhazy family, the great singers Milder, Vogl and Lablache, and the redoubtable Anna Fröhlich. It says a great deal for the charm of Marie Pachler, whom Schubert was in personal contact with for less than two weeks, that she was allowed to join this select list.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000