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This piece is mentioned in the memoirs of Schubert’s schoolfriend Anton Stadler who at one time owned the autograph. We are seldom absolutely certain whether the pieces of this period were related to the young composer’s studies with Salieri, but Stadler particularly remembered that this song was a ‘Hausaufgabe’ – a piece of homework for the Italian master. It is, as far as it goes, a very effective piece of music. It has the remarkable virtue of built-in, and inevitable, continuity: each phrase organically grows out of what has gone before, and rolls on to the next; nowhere does the music seem to have run its course until it reaches the final bars. And there is something about the dotted rhythm of the accompaniment which encapsulates the heroic posturing of Italian opera. In 1813 this strutting rhythm, taut and dramatic, underneath a sinuous bel canto cantilena was probably not yet the commonplace it was to become; but the mood and manner of this music was to pervade the world of Italian opera for a century, and the innocent ear, when confronted with this piece, would have a hard time guessing its provenance. It might pass for Rossini, even early Verdi, particularly as the vocal line is supported by a bass line of such strength and independence, and it is so idiomatically conceived for the bass voice.
In this song we hear the ground work which would enable Schubert to write so magnificently, and in a seemingly effortless Italian style, for the great bass Luigi Lablache in 1827. It is perhaps less obvious that without the experience of being required to write music of this kind, Schubert would never have produced something like the Ständchen from Schwanengesang from 1828. A German Lied of this calibre is no less great because of its Italian spiritual origin, and in Pensa, che questo instante we can detect the skeleton, the young bones scarcely formed, beneath that sumptuous hybrid. Such marrying of styles is such a Schubertian speciality that we scarcely notice when it happens. But just as the Mozartian style encompasses Italy, there is a good deal that has always been thought of as purely Schubertian (and thus Viennese) which in fact owes its existence to the warmer south.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999
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