Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 5 – Elizabeth Connell
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At this stage of Schubert's life there is little doubt that he was beginning to feel his own god-like powers, and that his sympathies were with pagan rather than Christian ideals. The great new influence was the poet Johann Mayrhofer, and many of the songs Schubert wrote in that March of 1817 were all to do with the world of the ancients as seen through Mayrhofer's poems: Memnon, Antigone und Oedip, Orest auf Tauris, and so on. In Ganymed, the composer and his collaborator found a pre-echo of their Greek explorations in one of Goethe's poems penned over forty years previously. In this period of Schubert's enthusiasm for his friend's poetry, it is almost as if Goethe's Ganymed is set as a surrogate Mayrhofer work. The verses dress up the myth as a pantheistic allegory of man's relationship to God-in-Nature, but one cannot doubt that instructed by Mayrhofer, if not by his own education in the classics, Schubert was fully aware of its homo-erotic implications. The tale of the beautiful Trojan youth, seized by Zeus, in the guise of an eagle, to be cup-bearer of the gods, touched on the passions of people who lived a life of the greatest (and most necessary) discretion in Vienna, some of whom were probably part of the composer's new circle. Indeed it is almost certain that Mayrhofer, an avid admirer of the Greeks, was homosexual; 'griechische Liebe'—Greek Love—was then a common euphemism for the as yet unlabelled 'condition' of homosexuality. This is not the place to open a full-scale discussion of Schubert's own leanings (in a recent paper presented to the American Musicological Society, and published in 19th Century Music, the distinguished scholar Maynard Solomon argues that the composer was also homosexual, and part of a strong Viennese clandestine sub-culture), but just because Schubert's setting of Ganymed lacks the sumptuous sensuality of Wolf's masterful one (a Tiepolo to Schubert's smaller-scale Poussin perhaps) we should not suppose that he was somehow innocent of what the story was really about. It is outrageously patronising to assume that the composer broached this text without being every bit as aware as Wolf of all its different layers of meaning. He was living away from home for the first time, and the bohemian life-styles of his older friends, whether or not he shared all their tastes, must have aroused his curiosity, and represented an exciting freedom in stark contrast to the strictures of his father's house. This was the springtime of the twenty-year-old's life, and his joy in the beauties of the present was being matched by his deepening knowledge of the past. It is miraculous, but not so surprising, that side by side with the grandeur of songs like Memnon he was able to depict the verdant delicacy of Ganymed. We hear the freshness and naturalness of spontaneous, unselfconscious love. As well as man's love for nature (admittedly the least `embarrassing' of the song's manifold possibilities) Ganymed could also be said to be about the love of child for parent: love tinged with complex eroticism certainly, but completely lacking in guilt. This setting seems to accept sexual attraction as a gift from the gods, and as such is far truer to the values of Greek antiquity in pre-Judeo-Christian times than evocations of a decadent Olympus seen through Christian hindsight. The song was written by a composer whose fascination with sex was well-known to a number of his friends. But equally obvious to every Schubertian is the composer's inexhaustible ability to pour the purest of love into his music. Sadly the integration of love and sex in a long-term relationship was something that Schubert failed to achieve in his short life, but the transparent and artless way in which this poem has been set is a pointer to his own ability to see sex and love, on the highest level, as one and the same.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989