I once asked Schubert whether he did not also want to try setting prose to music and chose, for this purpose, the text from St John, Chapter VI verse 59 … He solved this problem wonderfully in 24 bars which I still possess as a very precious souvenir of him. He chose for it the solemn key of E major and the verse for a soprano voice with figured bass accompaniment.
For some reason Hüttenbrenner's autograph copy of the work contains only the last 24 of the piece's 57 bars. If we are to believe him (his reminiscences are often self-serving), Hüttenbrenner's suggestion called into being one of the strangest of the Schubert songs, if song it may be called. It is as if only poetry is able to bring forth melody in the composer's mind. Prose, on the other hand, moves him to a type of arioso, half recitative with an occasional outbreak of melody. The accompaniment suggests the organ, and the harmonic language sometimes evokes church music of the past (John Reed suggests the work might have been used liturgically). At other times it looks forward to the future and is prophetic of the word-setting technique of Wagner, governed as that is by the flexibility of speech. The overall effect is rather timeless, which is perhaps appropriate for the words of Christ. If anything the sense of freedom of this accompanied recitative reminds us of Schubert's most pioneering religious work the oratorio Lazarus D689, composed in 1820. The story of Lazarus was also taken from St John's Gospel. Deutsch states that the text is based on Luther's translation of the Bible, but John Reed avers that it is unlikely that this work was Schubert's source in Catholic Vienna. Reinhard Van Hoorickx has discovered that the complete text, including the introductory sentence, is contained in the Gospel pericope for the Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994
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