By 1816 Schubert knew a great deal more about singing than in 1811. The tessitura of this music is not the result of miscalculation, only perhaps misguided enthusiasm. He seems to have really wanted the heroic effect produced when the tenor voice is stretched to the limit. Substantial chords in the piano, often doubled strongly in both hands, abet this sense of extrovert determination. It would be interesting to know if the composer had a specific singer in mind. If so, we do not know who this could be. There was, as yet, no tradition of Schubertiads, and there was not yet a circle of talented and willing fellow artists surrounding the composer. It is more than likely that in Schubert’s lifetime this song was never performed. A singer like Ludwig Tietze might have managed it, but he emerges as a personality only much later in the composer’s life. By the time Tietze was performing Schubert’s songs it is almost certain that Entzückung lay long forgotten in a drawer.
The key is C major, the tonality of light and openness, as well as of ceremonial. Schubert uses it in three other songs of love in early bloom: Die erste Liebe, Willkommen und Abschied and Morgengruss from Die schöne Müllerin. The opening bars recall the melody of Mozart’s famous C major Sonata K545, but Mozart seems an inappropriate reference point in a song which is almost Wagnerian in its sweep and scope – music for an infant Lohengrin. Daring chromaticism reinforces this impression: note how the word ‘Liebe’ at the beginning of the song dallies on a challenging high A that dips into an A flat on its way down the scale; a few bars later, ‘Seele drang!’ veers between D and E flat with a hairpin crescendo and diminished chord, a device calculated to turn up the emotional heat. Even more heart-on-sleeve, although admittedly faithful to the text’s imagery, is the descent in semitones at ‘An den süssbeklommnen Busen sank!’. This is a textbook example of chromatic harmony as a symbol of eroticism – on this day in April 1816 Schubert seems to have been in hot and bothered state of mind. We have heard ‘Laura’ praised before in Schubert’s songs (the name features in settings of poems by both Matthisson and Schiller), but never like this. In earlier settings she plays the piano (Schiller’s Laura am Klavier), prays demurely (as in Die Betende), or sings Klopstock’s Auferstehungslied as in An Laura (both Matthisson). The singers reactions in those songs, however ardent, seem tepid in comparison to this overheated Entzückung.
The composer has taken the urgent idea of ‘die wonnetrunk’ne Seele’ and gone to great lengths to reflect this state of emotional drunkenness in music. Is there an element of self-consciousness here, or perhaps a type of showing off? In fact even a good performance of this song cannot help but sound exactly that – an exhibition of vocal prowess. In reality the song needs two singers. For example, at the start of the second verse the music calls for a light-voiced tenor of flexible movement and delicate sensibility, someone capable of weaving the allusive music for ‘Goldner sah ich Wolken sich besäumen, Jedes Blättchen auf den Frühlingsbäumen Schien zu flüstern’. The whispering of tiny leaves rustling on the branches is suited to these incessantly tripping quavers grouped in dancing melismatic pairs. All of this is reminiscent of Naturgenuss, including the accompaniment dancing between the hands. But then, as piano triplets change from sylvan rustle to cavalry charge, the vocal line shifts into another gear: the repetitions of ‘flüstern’ in this high tessitura could never sound anything like a whisper. By the time we have reached the triumphant ‘Ewig dein’ in high and taxing minims, we need a singer of quite different mettle.
The recitative (marked ‘Declamirt’) for the last two lines of the second verse (beginning Glücklicher, in solcher Taumelfülle) is a disappointment – it is rather stiff and wooden just when we have expected Schubert to paint the images with a greater extravagance. It is as if the composer is losing interest in the project. The song ends with a repeat of the first two lines of Matthisson’s poem. The opening ten bars are recycled as the song returns from its middle section excursions into the safe haven of C major. There is something stilted and theatrical about the da capo aria which this work has now become. With its passionate declamation, and frankly unreasonable technical demands, there is a feeling that Entzückung has been written as an experiment. This may be a fascinating, even prescient, glimpse into the future of musical Romanticism (and the future of singing), but the song conjures a mood which goes against the grain of the Schubertian virtues of sanity and reasonableness. Here these are pushed aside by the imperatives of singing technique. Even the winter traveller at his most unhinged keeps his highs and lows within the confines of the stave. But then, he was the creation of an older and wiser composer.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999