The key signature of C sharp major in Schubert’s vocal music is so unusual as to be unique. Certainly there are no solo songs written in seven sharps. If the music seems to inhabit an ethereal world, it is partly to do with this tonality, less grounded than if it had been written in D flat major. All is unrealized hope and aspiration painted in the delicate colours of dawn and the glow of starlight. The first tenor line is written in a typically challenging tessitura, poised on E sharps and expected to float upwards with little sense of strain. Most of the song is in block harmonies gently moving in a wafting 6/8. In this song (effectively an 1816 version of ‘Night and day, you are the one’) the shades of morning and evening are wonderfully counterpointed by the difference between ‘Früh, wenn die Wolken falben’ (C sharp major) and ‘Und spät im Sternenschein’ (G sharp minor/major). Two evocative verbs – ‘umschweben’ (literally ‘to float around’) and, in the second verse, ‘umflüstern’ (literally ‘to surround with whispers’) – provide Schubert with a pair of excuses for a nine-bar coda of the utmost delicacy. (Of the poem’s five strophes, only the first two are set.) The first tenors weave a melismatic spell on ‘Geliebtes Traumgesicht!’, but this embroidery seems plain in comparison to the floating golden thread of ‘Umschwebst’ which is nearly three bars long. The first tenor line descends in syncopations against the other voices, a more daring spokesman for the aching longing felt by the rest of the choir in more reserved fashion. (The languid sensuality of this passage is more than a match for the equivalent passage in the solo song – a pair of dropping intervals in dotted crotchets on ‘Umschwebst du mich’ followed by a flight of ecstatic quavers.) In the second verse of the choral setting the same music seems even more erotic, as if the fluttering ribbons of the bodice (‘Busenband’) had been untied and loosened by a loving, roving hand. All in all this is a perfect page, the part-song equivalent of some of the miniature masterpieces for solo voice from the same period.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999
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