Hyperion Records

Der Rattenfänger, D255
First line:
Ich bin der wohlbekannte Sänger
composer
first published in 1850 as No 2 of volume 47 of the Nachlass
author of text

Recordings
'Schubert: The Complete Songs' (CDS44201/40)
Schubert: The Complete Songs
Buy by post £150.00 CDS44201/40  40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)  
'Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 24' (CDJ33024)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 24
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDJ33024  Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40   Download currently discounted
Details
Track 9 on CDJ33024 [2'26] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 2 on CDS44201/40 CD9 [2'26] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Der Rattenfänger, D255
Goethe read about the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in Gottfried's Historischer Chronica of 1642. The story seems to have its roots in the Children's Crusade of 1212 when 40,000 German children set off over the Alps for Italy. Although the Pope ordered them home, many of these children were never seen again by their parents and some were sold into slavery. The legend goes that Hamelin in Westphalia was infested with rats in 1284. A piper in multi-coloured clothes offered to rid the town of vermin for a sum agreed by the townspeople. He kept his side of the bargain but when no payment was forthcoming he led all the children away down into a mountain cave – never to be seen again according to one version, and into Transylvania to found a German colony according to another. The story first appeared in England in James Howell's Familiar Letters (1645-1655) which was probably the source of Browning's famous poem on the subject. Goethe's debt to the legend is oblique, a re-working of the story in the same way that his Ganymed puts a new gloss on Greek myth. It is notable, for example, that Goethe's rat-catcher is not a piper at all but a player of a stringed instrument – probably a lute. The story is not told in full (as in Browning); the poet introduces the character as if ignorant of the sequel; this is only possible because, as the rat-catcher boasts, he is well known to us – 'wohlbekannte' and notorious. The minstrel's ability with rats and children is familiar, but Goethe is unable to resist a third strophe which turns him into a lady-killer also.

The music is in Schubert's best Singspiel manner; it is a merry and boastful little song with undertones of later developments in the story written into the music: in the second bar, under 'wohlbekannte', an F natural in the piano's left hand undermines the G major tonality in sly manner – we cannot trust this man. The slithering of rats is marvellously caught in the setting of the phrase 'Und wären's Ratten noch so viele' with double thirds in the piano's right hand to show that these creatures move in swarms. The phrase 'Und wären Wiesel mit im Spiele' scurries to a cadence which might suggest a vocal cadenza, and is of sinister charm. The accompaniment to the phrase 'säubr' ich' high in the voice is deliciously ornamented with crushed grace notes in the pianist's right hand which betoken the imperious sweep of a new broom in the first verse, and the twanging of lute strings in the second.

Perhaps this song would be better known if Hugo Wolf had not composed his masterpiece of 1889 in which the malice is positively diabolical and we hear rats at every turn in the accompaniment as King Rat in human form sings his honeyed serenade. Of course Schubert's song cannot compete with that. In its own terms, however, it is a success, and the composer included it in the second of his two Lieder albums for Goethe.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995

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