Bruchmann’s poetry, reflecting the manner of its creator, is very ‘I’ orientated. Schwestergruss recounts a personal fantasy at the end of which the poet imagines himself invested with the spiritual imprimatur to ‘spread the word’. It would be nice to imagine, as suggested as a possibility in the introduction, that the poem of Der zürnende Barde was written in sympathy for Schubert’s plight as he took his future into account on learning of his illness. But it is far more likely that Bruchmann saw himself as the indignant bard of the poem. He was rather a specialist in feeling indignant, and promises of vengeance sound like him in one of his tempers, and very unlike Schubert; reference to ‘ancestors’ and ‘ancient forbears’ seems much more applicable to a knight of the realm (Bruchmann’s inherited title was ‘Ritter’) than to a schoolteacher’s son. We remember that Bruchmann was one of those students arrested and interrogated by the police, together with Schubert and the Tyrolean poet Johann Senn, in March 1820. On that occasion, characteristically it seems, Bruchmann weighed in with what the authorities called ‘insulting and opprobrious language’. There is nothing in his poetry which is remotely seditious or dangerous (he became, in later life, an arch-member of the establishment) but Der zürnende Barde seems to be the work of a headstrong aristocrat protesting that he is far too well-born and talented to be muzzled by the bourgeois Metternich regime.
When Schubert composed this work he was in the middle of a grave personal crisis; Bruchmann, for all his posturing, was the good-looking and healthy son of a well-to-do family. It is perhaps for this reason that there one can detect a certain lack of conviction in this music; it is not a bad song, far from it, but neither is it one of the most towering of Schubert’s utterances. It is hard not to think that it was set at the poet’s special behest, for it bears some of the marks of something written in haste for a party on the night of its composition. Apart from a touch or two of magic, the music avoids the ‘innig’; it seems conceived as an opera aria for a character, the whole thing distanced from deeper involvement by the inverted commas of the invisible stage. The rum-ti-tum accompaniment is the first clue that this is the case, a Gilbert-and-Sullivan-like introduction in a rollicking 6/8, two bars in G minor, and two in E flat major followed by two bars of a cadential tag bringing the music back to G minor. By Schubert’s standards this is drinking-song note-spinning – one of those introductions, functional rather than inspired, which sounds like it might have been added by the publisher Diabelli at a later date.
There is a fine sense of bustle in the first two strophes, the sort of thing that sounds impressive in a voice with a glamorous timbre. Some of the Schiller settings (Der Kampf for example) begin with this masculine huffing and puffing. A succession of ‘Wer wagt’s’ in G minor, repeated perhaps just a little too automatically, neatly counterbalance the line beginning ‘noch tagt’s’ (B flat major); but this outrage does not come from within – compare the genuinely angry opening of Prometheus for example. Rage is a tricky thing to convey in music, and Schubert seldom manages it well; he is the composer of love, compromise and forgiveness rather than of confrontation and vengeance. Use of diminished harmony in the second strophe does little to make the minstrel genuinely menacing, indeed the interlude between strophes 3 and 4, a dance-like juxtaposition of E flat major and B flat7, suggests the wandering minstrel of The Mikado rather than a druid at the end of his tether. This amiable music (‘close to triviality’ – Fischer-Dieskau) is the basis of the accompaniment to the third strophe, and it does little justice to the image of dancing in Wotan’s grove; there is nothing here of the Ossianic atmosphere which Schubert has conjured in the past, music which really is worthy of the tribal rites of age-old cultures.
The music for the next strophe is more harmonically adventurous with a pleasing modulation to D flat major appropriate to the ‘selige Wonne’ of the setting sun, an event mirrored by the fall of the vocal line at ‘versank in das bluhende Tal’. There is then a bridge passage back to G minor and Schubert adapts the music of the opening to fit the beginning of the poem’s closing strophe. Here the composer uses four lines of text and expands it through music to make it last for an entire page (the words are heard twice with various further repetitions); there is a suddenly touching reference, in G major, to the smile of the gods – ‘so lang’ die Götter mir hold’ – and a generous coda with flourishes of bravery and determination where the elongated setting of the ‘Nimmer’, a word extrapolated from the poem’s second-last line, shows glowering defiance (again one is reminded of the closing of an aria) before the curtain falls on more hearty G major chords. The final dominant-tonic cadence is unusually unsophisticated for a work where the text is a serious one.
The 6/8 rhythm was perhaps not an ideal choice for these words; in this metre we are more used to Schubert as a writer of charming barcarolles, plaintive pastorales or merry drinking songs, lilting music with a spring in its step. Capell calls the song ‘spirited’ and that is about right; it has too much of the communal song about it, and it challenges the ear (and the accompanist) rather too little. Der zürnende Barde is perhaps too closely related to Der Alpenjäger for comfort, and one is reminded that as fine as that song is, the minstrel stereotype is almost as dangerous a trap as the stock figure of the hunter. Unlike Mayrhofer, Bruchmann did not have the gift of simplicity, and his grandiloquence fits ill with the type of song Schubert felt like writing on that day. We can only notice how distant this bard is from the inspired minstrel figures of Mayrhofer’s Nachtstück and Goethe’s Gesänge des Harfners. In a group of Schubert songs in performance, the work’s brisk Bewegung, could make it a useful link if sung with conviction and beautiful tone between two slower works of greater significance.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000