Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 27 – Matthias Goerne
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The song dates from that wonderful summer of 1825 when Schubert was on holiday with Vogl in Upper Austria. It was at this time that the composer was working on the 'Great' C major Symphony. The vocal creations of the period include settings of Wilhelm Schütz (Delphine and Florio) and the songs Die Allmacht and Das Heimweh. The latter two songs, both amongst Schubert's finest inspirations, were settings of Ladislaus Pyrker who was Patriarch of Venice when that town was still an Austrian possession. The composer was no snob and was seldom impressed by Viennese bigwiggery, but we know that he was mightily taken by Pyrker (who was not Viennese by birth, but born in the Tirol) a strikingly good-looking man in his early fifties (an exact contemporary of Schlegel), highly charismatic, with a love and understanding of music. The depth and strength of his religious convictions was not in doubt, and even if Schubert could not wholly share them, he paints a picture of them for us with elevated fervour in Die Allmacht. It is here surely that we sense Schubert's negative capability, in the Keatsian sense. His art remains unforced and non-judgmental, open to the feelings of others, a mirror of the different facets of life. There was a side to Schubert which, in a later century, may have made him exclaim 'I am a camera', stipulating only that the images he photographed were vivid and real, rather than staged. Of Pyrker's own sincerity in Die Allmacht there can be no doubt, and thus there is no insincerity in Schubert's music for the poem. One has the feeling that without discussing theology in any detail with Pyrker, and without sharing his orthodoxy, Schubert found some common ground with the poet's fervent belief in a supreme being.
We also have to take into account that Schubert was on holiday with Johann Michael Vogl, and that great singers love to have new material written for them. The grandeur of Die Allmacht, if not its original key, fitted Vogl like a glove; he actually chose to sing it at the public concert in 1828, the one and only such event devoted entirely to the composer's work in his lifetime. Another song the singer was known to have performed movingly (according to Josef von Spaun) was Fülle der Liebe, and it was in all probability written for him during this holiday when Schubert owed him so much, and when the least the composer could do in gratitude was to provide songs suitable for Vogl's rather particular manner. The song has the hallmarks of a Vogl piece for it is a dramatic monologue which depicts the protagonist in the most noble yet tortured light; we detect here shades of a classical hero who has suffered much, and has been transfigured in the process. There is a gestural quality in this music, at times almost melodramatic, which perhaps more than any other Schubert song suggests the grand manner of Vogl in performance. This rather old-fashioned theatricality was roundly criticised by some of Schubert's friends as affectation, but it was at the heart of Vogl's undoubted power as an interpreter. If we were to ask where Schubert found this text (for the composer was far from his normal sources of books in Vienna, and the poem does not appear in the collection which he had used for his other Schlegel settings) it seems to me very possible that it was suggested by Vogl, or by Pyrker who must have known Schlegel well; both of the last-named men moved in circles close to Metternich himself. Unlike fans of the poet's earlier work, the Patriarch of Venice must have rejoiced in the circumstances of Schlegel's conversion, his closeness to Rome, and his increasingly conservative political stance.
Here is a love poem with a strong religious gloss, the pain of bereavement lessened by assurance of an afterlife, the sensuality of passion sublimated by religious conviction. And the death of the beloved moves the poet from the path of temptation; indeed, in her death he is saved from besmirching himself with earthly sensuality. All of this has a lofty evangelical tone in which we can glimpse Schlegel's self-dramatising self-regard, and the poem's hyperbole strikes a note different from any of the other Schlegel settings. But it is easy to see how the composer came to set it to music in that larger-than-life summer when grandeur of scenery was matched by grandeur of company, when emotions swelled to match the scale of the mountain scenery, and when these words seemed to suit, for different reasons, two of his powerful patrons and well-wishers. And one must admit that some of these images seem to echo the composer's own struggles. After all, was he not suffering from a terminal 'Todeswunde', and is it not likely that one of the main reasons for undertaking the holiday in Upper Austria was bound up with the chance that he could take the healing waters of Gastein? Is it not also true that his love for Karoline Esterhazy involved renunciation? Schubert was no stranger to unbounded love and its sufferings. In any case he fashions from this poem a powerful, if unusual masterpiece, for once he has decided to set a poem it is very rare for this composer to do other than to serve it with his whole heart.
The pervading rhythm is that of a dotted crotchet followed by three quavers. These quavers are sometimes dotted also, as in the introductory bars where a forte passage of four ascending chords suggestive of the grandeur of stoic suffering (how Vogl must have loved this) is answered and balanced by four hushed chords, still pomposo in their rhythm, but suggestive of humility, albeit in rather staged manner. The hint of double-dotting makes this very 'public' music, suitable for a Handelian hero, but the composer's use of this rhythmic pattern goes far deeper. When Schubert uses this motif it tends to dominate the music in a manner that suggests irreversible fate (the final setting of Mignon's So lasst mich scheinen), obsession (the Platen song Du liebst mich nicht) or other-worldly radiance (Mayrhofer's Abendstern). There is an element of lone and noble struggle in all these songs, where the weak and disadvantaged show that they have a tenacious power of their own. Fate, obsession and the radiance of transfiguration all play their part in Fülle der Liebe, and the composer sticks mercilessly to the motif throughout. He balances the risks of rhythmic monotony with an ever-changing (and sometimes bewildering) harmonic agenda, and the song's seemingly rambling progress (particularly when at too slow a tempo, or sung by a less than expert singer) is actually rather cleverly organised.
Schubert has fourteen strophes to play with, each one of them rather short-breathed. Schlegel's rhyme-scheme is an unbending ABAB and is not helpful to the building of long musical structures. The short lines and density of cadences give a rather breathy and impatient feel to the poem, probably intentionally, but we might have hoped for fewer banal rhymes from a writer of Schlegel's literary acumen. The composer organises the music into three refrains which move from the home key of A flat major to F major and back to A flat. The first refrain is made up of Schlegel's first three strophes. We hear the refrain again in strophes 6, 7 and 8 (beginning 'Da trat ein Scheiden'). The vocal line is artfully ornamented and changed in detail (note the added pathos of the harmonisation of 'Todeswunde') but it is essentially the same music. The final appearance of this refrain occurs at Strophe 12 ('Ein Zauber waltet') where it is even more varied, but nevertheless provides a strong feeling of return to a home base. This scheme leaves Schubert free for the remaining five strophes (4 and 5 as well as 9, 10 and 11) to 'go walkabout', and wander he does in a manner extravagant even by his standards. At the section beginning 'Ein Feuer war es' (Strophe 4) we move suddenly into C major, and veer between that key and E major for eight lines of the poem, including a shift into C minor which sets up the return to the A flat major of the second refrain at Strophe 6.
The most extraordinary music is reserved for the heart of the poem, strophes 9 to 11. The move into the grandeur of C major at 'In Liebeswogen/Wallet der Geist' is already familiar from Strophe 4 ('Ein Feuer war es') but the sideways shift in harmony from G major to the first inversion of E flat minor at 'fortgezogen' is a new and shattering detail which illustrates love slipping out of the poet's life as surely as one harmony slips to another under the pianist's hands. Strophe 10 is a jewelled moment of relative repose, the still centre of a work remarkable for its restlessness. We move into Schubert's beloved A major, and mention of a star from paradise conjures reminiscences of Mayrhofer's Abendstern written the year before. How naturally and un-selfconsciously Schubert moves into upwardly-floating semiquavers at the repeat of 'Und dahin fliehn' to paint the twinned souls' ascent into paradise. We then return, via Strophe 11, to the third and final refrain.
Of course Schubert reserves something special for the end of the song. At 'Ob auch zerspalten / Mir ist das Herz' the movement between A flat major and E minor (in first inversion) is perhaps the most heated moment in a song remarkable for its historical flourishes. Each note of the tonic chord moves only a semitone either up or down to reach a region of heartrending and almost gruesome contrast. It must be admitted that the poet's pain seems to degenerate dangerously into self-pity and posture, but the beauty of Schubert's music carries the day. Schlegel is reflected as a true visionary in the best of the Abendröte songs; in Fülle der Liebe he emerges as something more contrived and stagey than a true Schubertian - a Christian Oedipus or Orestes perhaps. As we have said this interpretation must have suited Vogl, a famous Orestes in the theatre, down to the ground. But it is surely interesting that when these melodic and harmonic ideas are found again in the sublimely beautiful slow movement of the D major Piano Sonata (D850) there is no trace of grandeur and bluster, only the deepest and most gentle feeling. The piano music, stripped of the noble yet superfluous robes of grandee and cleric, suggests something written for the composer himself rather than for Vogl, and perhaps Pyrker. That Fülle der Liebe is nevertheless a most remarkable and affecting song, and that it repays performance by a singer of great presence is not in doubt.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996