Toby Spence (tenor), Daniel Norman (tenor), Christopher Maltman (baritone), Neal Davies (bass), Graham Johnson (piano)
At the end of 1816 the greatest Mayrhofer songs were still to come as far as Schubert was concerned. He had already set nine of the poems to music, but he had not yet embarked upon the sequence of poems inspired by the Greek classics that stand at the centre of the Schubert/Mayrhofer collaboration. It is there that we find the great Mayrhofer songs, and although the composer had known the poet since 1814 it took some time for Schubert (younger by ten years) to understand what was new and extraordinary about his friend’s work. This song implies a social side of the poet which, in terms of his day-to-day behaviour, became less and less usual as the years went on. Someone less likely to join in a light-hearted sing-song could not be imagined and, if he were to do so, there would be something lugubrious about his vocal contribution. When we look deeper into the text this mood is exactly what we find: instead of real merrymaking we find that type of escapist philosophy that is the result of too much introspection when the singer is in his cups.
The music, marked ‘Feurig’ (‘fiery’), is full of weighty unisons between voice and piano, as well as piano interludes consisting of hearty staccato octaves supported by muscular left-hand chords thick with fistfuls of notes. The key of D minor is rather a serious one for a drinking-song (it has something of the grimness of Don Giovanni’s final feast about it) although there is a possibility that the composer has allowed himself a touch of humour with a phrased jump of a fifth in the right-hand piano part which might well be taken to depict an inebriated hiccup. Otherwise one can see how Schubert already equates the poet’s philosophy with one of tough masculine endeavour in the manner of the ancient Greeks. Indeed, the ‘old times’ referred to by the poet suggest a typically Mayrhofian longing for the athletic and manly world of antiquity when punch was not yet invented and, without a trace of effeminacy or guilt, the names of male lovers were traced with the finger in the sediment – the ‘last of the wine’. (This oblique reference to Mary Renault’s novel is not inappropriate; Mayrhofer would have almost certainly approved of that writer’s imaginative journeys into the Greek past, and her linking of homosexuality with the highest moral standards. Mayrhofer, too, attempted to conjure up the classical Zeitgeist for the benefit and edification of the modern reader and, one suspects, for the comfort of the outcast.)
Although the song appears in Breitkopf and Peters as a solo, the first draft of the manuscript seems to have been headed ‘Chor’, as if Schubert had at first envisaged the work as a chorus. As this does not appear in a later copy the performance recorded here is a compromise between the two ideas: part of the strophe is presented as a solo for baritone, part as a chorus. There are tiny differences between the piano interludes in Peters and Breitkopf, particularly in the tessitura of the piano writing at the end of the strophe. In the heady spirit of punch-drunk party improvisation I have taken the liberty of including features from both versions, although this would scarcely be noticeable to anyone without scouring the two scores.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999