Jamie MacDougall (tenor), John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Simon Keenlyside (baritone), Michael George (bass), Graham Johnson (piano)
The opening is a miniature fanfare of horn-like successions of thirds and sixths; this is appropriate to the key of C major, beloved of classical composers for works of ceremony and pomp. As in a good many songs of this type, the pleasures of drinking are justified by a lugubrious philosophy with a grave accent – “We may as well get drunk, for life is all too short; live as well as you can before death claims you.” Such drinking songs are thus supposedly elevated to a higher level than their utilitarian function might imply; on the other hand they rarely challenge the listener sufficiently to require him to be sober, and they are consequently written off by all the commentators. This jolly little ditty is simple and hearty enough to have been sung by singers well on their way to inebriation, but like almost all of Schubert's occasional music it still shows the hand of a young master in its response to words. There is a Beethovenian strength both in the vigorous interplay between vocal line and bass and the swirling and busy semiquavers of the piano's right hand which seem to have sprung to life in response to the words 'in dem drängenden Gewühle' – 'Amid life's teeming throng'. The verb 'steigen' (climb) is set to an ascending fourth, and 'fallen' to a falling third; a similarly appropriate 'up' illustrates 'bald hinauf' followed by a 'down' for 'und bald hinab.' The modulation at the end of the solo section into A minor (at 'und die letzte ist das Grab') is rather witty – an unwelcome shock at the end of life's tunnel with the left hand of the piano digging deeper into the bottom reaches of the bass clef than has been its wont; the grave is after all the largest pitfall to be encountered by us all. The chorus begins earnestly in A minor for 'Darum, Brüder! schenket ein', returning to the major for the happier image of 'sinken wir berrauscht vom Wein'. A pedal point on C adds to the Beethovenian flavour of the piece at the repetition of 'Darum, Brüder!' and the final 'sinken wir berauscht vom Wein' is followed by a two-bar postlude, descending thirds which scuttle crablike down the keyboard. The effect of this is humorous, as if a succession of drinkers were sinking like ninepins into unconsciousness, each with a happy grin on his face. If Schubert himself had drunk as much as his reputation with some biographers suggests, he would never have been able to play this lively and detailed accompaniment.
This is the first of Schubert's settings of Ignaz Castelli. He was born in Vienna and had a typically Viennese career of the period – one where ceaseless artistic activity was combined with a number of official appointments in government service. His first success was in 1802, and he was counted one of the most important poets of the Wars of Liberation because of a poem, Kriegslied für die österreichische Armee, printed and distributed to the troops in 1809. He had his first real success as an opera librettist in 1810 with Die Schweizerfamilie of Josef Weigl, a Singspiel of seminal importance which influenced the young Schubert. This interest in music, as well as a lively social personality (Castelli was a member of numerous drinking and artists' 'societies') made his contemporaries dub him 'The Austrian Anacreon'. His range of activity was enormous – songs, ballads, fairy tales, legends, fables, anecdotes, puzzles, drinking songs and so on (known in Vienna as Unterhaltungsliteratur - 'writing for entertainment'). All this was quite apart from Castelli's work in the theatre, 199 pieces largely based on translations from the French. He left one of the most important libraries of the period and his volumes of memoirs are indispensable in their depiction of Biedermeier Vienna. In 1823 Castelli was to be Schubert's librettist for the short and ill-fated comic opera Die Verschworenen, but this drinking song probably pre-dates any personal contact between the two men, one an already established poet who was sixteen years older, and the other still very much a student. Castelli was by all accounts a jovial and approachable man whose good works included the foundation of the Austrian equivalent of the RSPCA. He was much more important and influential in the literary life of Vienna than the somewhat insubstantial nature of the three Schubert settings of his poems might suggest.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994