Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 23 – Christoph Prégardien
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There is something of this divide between singer and pianist in Julius an Theone. Even the title suggests an operatic drama - Shakespeare with a touch of the German (Julius and Juliet perhaps). The poem is taken from a novel or 'an unfinished romance' as Matthisson puts it, and from the very opening chords it is clear that in his mind Schubert is treating the poem in the grand manner as a bleeding chunk from an imaginary larger work. The words are somewhat extravagant and unlike the majority of Matthisson's poetry seem to discourage more intimate treatment. The introduction veritably propels Julius on to the stage as if he is escaping from a previous scene. In the best tradition of an aria excerpt the music begins in mid-stream; the opening four bars are curtain-raisers in the Sturm und Drang manner which set up the arrival of the tonic key and the entry of the voice. This is all exciting and passionate but somehow rather ordinary. The accompaniment throbs orchestrally and the vocal line has a broad-brushed sweep which somehow sets us apart from the finer nuances of the Lieder tradition. In the same way the soaring long lines of Tamino's 'Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön' from Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (Julius an Theone is also a 'picture' aria) have a quite different appeal from the close-up refinements of the same composer's song Abendempfindung. Schubert's touching lines in praise of Mozart ('Oh Mozart, immortal Mozart, how many, oh how endlessly many comforting perceptions of a brighter and better life have you brought to our souls') were penned in a diary entry from 1816 and it is clear that this composer's work in the theatre was much in Schubert's mind at the time.
The first one-and-a-half strophes of the poem are set in the operatic manner. The second strophe begins comfortably in B flat (the relative major of G minor, the original key) but from 'Wähntest den Triumph der Schönheit nicht' the music moves into a type of accompanied recitative rich in passionate chromaticism; some of the modulations (at the two exclamations of 'O Theone' for example) are astonishing. Here the music moves away from the mode of the set-piece into something much more individual. The opening of the third strophe returns to aria, but the composer changes tack again for the last two lines. As if somewhat alarmed by the theatrical excesses of the piece so far, the time signature changes to 3/4 and at 'Holde Feindin meines Friedens' we have music of immense constraint and modesty (marked Mässig, the vocal line largely doubled by the piano). Perhaps Schubert is attempting to write music which has already tasted the effects of the 'cup of forgetfulness'. The sombre postlude, drained of all passion, seems to sink into oblivion before our ears. The severe classical poise of this final section could not be more of a contrast with the opening bars. Although it has a beauty of its own we ask ourselves whether it is a successful conclusion to a song-aria which has seemed to promise us a blistering peroration. Julius an Theone seems to belong to the same experimental class as the same poet's Klage. In allowing the words to dictate the shape of a song to the possible detriment of its overall musical shape, the composer is thinking less about his audiences, more about his delight in following the poet wherever he leads.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995