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The first three of the poet’s strophes waft in the easy gait of the 6/8 sicilienne which is a familiar feature of the Matthisson songs of this period. The gently rippling piano writing is gently supportive; it does service as wafting breezes, but it takes a deliberately background role. The sense of vocal awkwardness is caused by the high tessitura and the fact that there is scarcely a break in the vocal line which refuses to separate into singable paragraphs. There is a struggle to make the poet’s long phrases (with clinching verbs sometimes as distant as lights at the end of the tunnel) sound musically natural. The recitative at the fourth verse is despatched as quickly, and simply, as possible. Schubert was probably correct in thinking that the garlanding of a straw hat (‘den Halmenhut’) was not the best subject for tenorial cantilena. Neither, for that matter, is the subject-matter of the fifth verse; but the pictorial temptations were too much for the young composer. Fairy-like glow-worms occasion a fleeting and delightful elfin dance, and the enthusiasm of the girl is given voice in no less than three rising exclamations of ‘Wie schön!’, the last of which reaches a high A flat, and then falls, wiltingly, to the C flat below. Schubert is faithful to the poet’s inverted commas, but this sudden note of femininity has to be treated with caution – it can easily sound silly.
The song concludes with two strophic verses which bring the work full circle. It has been a feature of all these verses musically to repeat the last line of the strophe: two bars of a gently ascending chromatic scale are balanced by a poised cadential bar with a held high note, and a fall to the tonic decorated by a pair of graceful semiquavers. One cannot imagine this device sounding less than comical on ‘Den Halmenhut’, but this is one of the reasons why Schubert chose to make the fourth verse recitative. That this decorative touch seems fitting at the end of all the other verses, and especially good for the last (‘Gedenke mein!’), is a sign that the composer is slowly mastering the main problem of writing songs of this kind: finding music that will be relevant not only to the first strophe, but to all the others as well. Although Erinnerungen is not a song for the Lieder enthusiast to whistle on his way to work, Schubert’s experiments with form are a valuable addition to his armoury. Tackling works of this kind enabled him to compose the masterpieces of the future. It would be some years before he hit on the idea of using variation form for a similar set of lover’s memories in the immortal Im Frühling.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999
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