Patricia Rozario (soprano), Catherine Denley (contralto), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Michael George (bass), Graham Johnson (piano)
Unger was a many-sided man who fancied himself as a poet (his Gedichte were issued in 1797) and composer as well as being a professor at the Theresianische Ritterakademie in Vienna, a type of finishing school for young men of noble birth. It was there that Unger had made his first contact with the Count Esterházy. Unger was also a contributor to almanacs in one of which a version of this poem appeared in 1804. This fact was only discovered by Dietrich Berke as recently as 1969. Until that time the quartet was known by its old title of Lebenslust (as it was published in the old Gesamtausgabe) and the poet was unknown. The Neue Schubert Ausgabe issued the work in Volume 2a of Series III (1996) where the editorial commentary mentions the puzzling differences between the text as printed in the almanac, and the composer’s manuscript. The editors even conjecture that Schubert set the quartet from an anonymous source; but it would surely be too much of a coincidence that he should choose to set such a text at the same time as he was drawing closer to the Unger circle. Further evidence that Unger had become known to the Schubertians is the fact that in 1818, Schubert’s friend Anslem Hüttenbrenner also set an Unger poem as a vocal quartet – Der Abend.
The answer to this puzzle lies in a source which was not available to the editors of the Neue Schubert Ausgabe. This is a slim volume of manuscripts (56 pages) entitled Carl Ungers Lieder, Nachgeahmt oder von ihm selbst gedichtet und in Musick [sic] gesetzt. The book is not dated but it contains numerous simple solo song settings, many apparently by Unger himself, others where his words are made to fit arrangements of Paer, Haydn and Pleyel. In almost all cases, however, it seems that the poems are by Unger himself. The music for Die Geselligkeit, for example, is marked ‘by an unknown’ (a simple F major song in 3/4 without very great merit), but the verses are identical with the text in Schubert’s manuscript. It seems likely that this volume had been assembled much earlier than 1818 (one of the pieces refers to the Befreiungskrieg of 1813) and that it was used as Schubert’s source for Die Geselligkeit, as well as Die Nachtigall, and by Hüttenbrenner for his Der Abend.
As for the music itself, there are touches of Schubertian subtlety here and there; but the music has been made to appeal to a jollier, and lower, common denominator than much of Schubert’s work for SATB (compare the magisterial Gebet from 1824). The introduction is obviously authentic because it sounds so much better than the leaden musical tags that Diabelli was wont to place in front of original Schubert songs that he published in the Nachlass. The tricky little semiquaver flourish before the entry of the voices encapsulates the mood of merry high spirits which are at the heart of this poem. This is one of the composer’s Ländler-like waltzes in 6/8, and it is kept deliberately simple. There is a telling change from D major to an ominous D minor to paint the word ‘öde’ (barren) where the cosy and rollicking accompanying semiquavers change to quavers, an octave apart between the hands, which rise and fall within a two-octave range like an icy wind on a forsaken plain. This is an example of Schubert’s not infrequent visual trickery where the music not only sounds emptier and more barren as a result of the harmonies, it also looks mournful on the printed page. At ‘In traulichen Kreise, beim herzlichen Kuss’ we find the same canonic technique between the voices as we have already heard in Das Dörfchen; the composer obviously felt that this was a good way to give the important first tenor (whose music is almost always more demanding than the other three singers) a short moment to be heard on his own. The third time we hear ‘ist Seelengenuss’ it is accompanied by a gleeful ascending scale culminating in a contrary-motion A major arpeggio decorated by acciaccature.
The performance recorded here uses three of the four verses of the poem. There is more biographical information about the Ungers, father and daughter, in the commentary accompanying Die Nachtigall in Volume 28 of this series.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000