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L'incanto degli occhi, D990e

First line:
Da voi, cari lumi
First setting. 1813 (?); song exercise without accompaniment, realized by Reinhard van Hoorickx. The vocal line first printed in 1979 in the Neue Schubert Ausgabe, Kassel
author of text

This aria text is from Metastasio’s Attillo Regolo of 1740. Of all the Italian poems set as exercises in his adolescence, Schubert returned to this one, and this one alone, in his maturity. The result was the divinely beautiful canzona of 1827 (D902 No 1, in Volume 36), a subtle and delectable opera buffo stylisation for bass voice which is, at the same time, an inimitably Schubertian creation. Although the Rossini craze in Vienna was the principal stumbling-block for Schubert’s hopes of operatic success, this late piece, conceived for Luigi Lablache, is as much a homage to the Italian composer as the gentlest of send-ups. And Schubert’s bemused smile fits a Rossini pastiche perfectly: after all, who was more inclined to send himself up, as well as the whole gallimaufry of operatic clichés, than Rossini himself?

There is little comparable in terms of deliciously underplayed wit in this first setting of L’incanto degli occhi, the date of which is uncertain (perhaps sometime between 1813 and 1817, although a date earlier within that range seems more likely). It is the first of two songs written out on a double sheet of paper (the vocal lines are provided without accompaniment) which came into the possession of the collector H P Wertitsch as late as 1988. (The companion piece is Ombre Amene.) So this is almost certainly another Salieri exercise, but one of the more extended and ambitious. The key is B flat major, but the sophistication of the melodic inflexions, as well as the modulations (the song’s central section is in D flat major), suggests that the composer had envisaged an accompaniment, and a reasonably elaborate one at that. As the composer almost always wrote down the vocal line first, there is nothing unusual in the lack of a piano part in an early sketch.

The whole of this work is more advanced than the earlier exercises which had been designed simply to foster a smooth sense of melodic flow and efficient part-writing; this a full-fledged aria, displaying a feeling both for the capabilities of the human voice (it is reasonably grateful to sing) as well as for word-painting. The fourth appearance of the words ‘Mi fate tremar’ occasions five bars of coloratura flourishes in semiquaver scales on ‘fate’ – an effective depiction of the trembling of the narrator. Such florid passagework is relatively rare in Schubert’s songs and, unlike other composers besotted with the Italian manner, it is never an excuse for gratuitous display – there is a real textual reason for this virtuosity. ‘Mi fate tremar’ is a phrase which Schubert also much enjoyed playing with in D902, but there in a more subtle manner. Note how ‘Voi siete miei Numi’ stays anchored on one note as if to give a prayer-like flavour to the passage. This tenacious stability of the vocal line mirrors faith in the gods, and this is not brought out in Hoorickx’s arrangement, the best feature of which is, as usual, its refusal to indulge in the hubris of being too clever. Consequently, his accompaniments and adaptations are often not quite clever enough. The danger in more sophisticated completions is that what is genuine, in this case Schubert’s melody, can be all-too-easily obscured. If Hoorickx is not quite able to conjure up magic from these simple ingredients, he enhances our enjoyment of what remains of Schubert himself in these fragments. He gamely finished the setting with some twenty bars of his own in order to complete Metastasio’s text. As these cannot boast an authentic Schubert melody, we stop after 57 bars when Schubert’s manuscript itself peters out. We have, however, chosen to use Hoorickx’s piano introduction which is in the style of some of the genuine Vorspiele to be found in the Italian songs.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 33
CDJ33033Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 18 on CDJ33033 [2'33] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 14 on CDS44201/40 CD2 [2'33] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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