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Hoffnung, D637

First line:
Es reden und träumen die Menschen viel
Second setting. c1819; published by Pennauer in 1827 as Op 87 No 2
author of text

This is Schubert’s second setting of this Schiller poem. The first dates from 1815 and is completely different in mood from this version. In 1815, the composer has taken the verbs ‘rennen’ and ‘jagen’ as his primary inspirations and the result is a chirrupy and tuneful ditty which reflects the youthful optimism of a teenager with everything to hope for in life.

Although it is not certain that this second setting dates from 1819 it is very likely that Schubert returned to the poem at this time and was able to give it a much deeper appraisal as the result not only of his greater experience of life but also of a deeper understanding of the philosophical issues which interested his contemporaries. It does, however, have something in common with another 1815 song, the Schober Genugsamkeit which is also in a sturdy 6/8 and displays a similar stoical determination.

The introduction shows a preoccupation with subtly moving inner parts, much as we have found in Himmelsfunken. The chromaticism of the opening four bars is a metaphor for what might be called life’s rather unpleasant habit of moving the goal-posts without notice. Circumstances in life change as quickly as a chord in the hand which (just when you think you have recognized it) metamorphoses under the fingers into something else. It is extremely tricky to build solid edifices on shifting sand, and the pilgrim’s aim is to reach a place where an optimistic view of life can flourish on a secure foundation. What emerges in this Hoffnung is that it is not easy to continue to hope through thick and thin, and against the odds – it takes resolution, quiet determination and courage, not merely a breezy esprit. Note for example, in a song which is in the key of B flat major, the setting of ‘künftigen Tagen’ (‘days to come’) is in B flat minor to underline that, when speaking of the future, ‘what’s to come is still unsure’ – as Shakespeare puts it.

John Reed is correct to point out that Capell’s characterization of the song as ‘racy – a wilder kind of drinking song’ is one of that writer’s rare misjudgements. Of course it might seem more palatable at a rollicking tempo, but this is to misunderstand its essential thoughtfulness and introspection – a side of the German character that Capell perhaps found stodgy and self-indulgent. The song in its pastoral manner is a forerunner of the Schlegel setting Abendlied für die Entfernte (also in 6/8) which reflects on the same issues (‘the heart remains constant, hoping faithfully unto the grave’). Both songs share an earnest and touching desire not only for better circumstances in life but also for self improvement (note the elongated setting of ‘Verbesserung’ at the end of the first verse where the breadth of the note values seems to imply the opening up of new vistas of perception as much as windows of opportunity). All this is in line with the shared hopes and aspirations of the Bildung circle which was particularly active in 1819 as Johann Senn had not yet been exiled to the Tyrol. It is significant that the manly and quietly heroic qualities advocated here do not explicitly mention God or religion. Nevertheless it seems self-evident that this song was composed by the same hand which wrote the Silbert and Novalis settings, rich in metaphysical imagery, at about the same time.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 29 – Marjana Lipovšek
CDJ33029Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40Download currently discounted


Track 3 on CDJ33029 [2'41] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 6 on CDS44201/40 CD21 [2'41] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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