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The key is D major – more important, as Reed points out, as a symphonic key for Schubert, than as a favourite song tonality. But there is something symphonic about this music, and the introduction immediately takes us out into the open air. The poem is taken from a section of the 1826 edition of Seidl's poetry entitled Jägerlieder ('Hunting Poems'). The piano introduction bids us stride through the countryside, and we can hear the sound of the hunting-horn somewhere in the inner parts. The eighth and ninth bars have a succession of thirds (another hunting motif perhaps) hammered out high on the keyboard in double octaves. The insistence on this falling interval is reminiscent of a similar figure in the first movement of the A minor Piano Sonata, D784. The poem has two strophes with a rhyme scheme in couplets which results in a relentless and breathless succession of two-bar phrases. Such is the quality of the tune, and the sense of energy inherent in men's voices singing together, that we scarcely notice this. (Seidl even implies shortness of breath in the 'Luftgedräng' of the second verse!) At 'wölbt sich das Laubgemach' there is a shift into the subdominant (G major) and this leads triumphantly to four bars in B flat major followed by a return to the tonic in second inversion. This is bracing stuff, the dactylic rhythms imparting a sense of exhilaration in nature, the repeated motifs having a Beethovenian stolidity. However, just in case we had imagined that this has a little too much in common with hearty German hiking music, the second verse takes us into another world. For no fewer than twenty-two bars all four voice parts and piano are in hushed unison. This successfully paints the sense of awe, even fear (is it agoraphobia?) as the poet stands up in the mountains looking down at sunset in the valley. Before 'Und in ein Kämmerlein' the music pivots on two bars of double-octave C sharps played softly on the piano. Where are we going? The flowering into F sharp major with the entry of the voices, four-part harmony after so much unison singing, is a moment of true Schubertian magic, the whole section a marvel of tenderness. The contradictory feelings inherent in the song's title are here illustrated: when push comes to shove, the poet feels happiest at home in Vienna in his 'Kämmerlein', and this is where the poem ends. Schubert however will have none if it. He repeats the first verse of the poem, and its music, as if the poet's 'Widerspruch' has been a momentary aberration. This is a chorus for happy hunters after all, and there has to be music to march them home.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996
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