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Schwangesang, D318

First line:
Endlich stehn die Pforten offen
first published in 1895
author of text

This is another graveside elegy, this time spoken in the first person as the poet prepares to meet his end. Although it is true that Kosegarten’s poem does not directly relate to war, the composer’s mind was running on the theme of patriotism and noble death at the time and it is not hard to see how he could have seen an analogy between the soul preparing to make its last journey and the soldier preparing for his inevitable end as in Gebet während der Schlacht and Amphiaraos from earlier in 1815, and also Kriegers Ahnung from the much later Schwanengesang.

Another song on this same theme is the duet Hektors Abschied, a mythological hero’s swansong which was also composed on 19 October, 1815. All in all there were eight songs written on that day including the magisterially beautiful Nachtgesang, the two An Rosa songs and Die Sterne, as well as Luisens Antwort and Idens Schwanenlied. Apart from the Schiller setting about Hector and Andromache, all the poems were by Kosegarten, for this was the height of the composer’s brief but intense four-month fling with that poet. In terms of its original key (F minor) and mood (not to mention its title) this Schwangesang is most closely related to Idens Schwanenlied. The music has a grave quality of simplicity suggesting the wisdom of a Sarastro and the acceptance of the inevitable by a brave philosopher with a belief in the afterlife. The word-painting of ‘das kühle Grab’ is particularly fine (a beguiling melisma decorated with an acciacatura which softens the threat of the grave) as are the graceful dip in the vocal line (as in Ossians Lied nach dem Falle Nathos) to illustrate ‘neig ich mich die Nacht hinab’ and the touching high note for ‘süsse Ruh’’. On the word ‘Ruh’’ itself we notice for the first time, with a shiver of recognition, the dactylic rhythm (a minim followed by two crotchets) of Death’s music from Der Tod und das Mädchen which was composed sixteen months later. The calm of this is interrupted by the sudden despairing upward leap of ‘Klage’ (as if at the last minute the singer is experiencing a stab of fear after all). The piano’s postlude re-establishes a mood of sepulchral peace; at this moment the connection with Death and the Maiden is most evident. In these early years Schubert’s composing unconscious was in the process of forming a vast vocabulary (sometimes borrowed from other sources, particularly Mozart) of tonal analogues and motifs, a library of words-to-music correspondences for his exclusive use. A study of seemingly unimportant songs like Schwangesang in relation to the later masterpieces bears this out time without number.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 20
CDJ33020Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 5 on CDJ33020 [2'48] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 9 on CDS44201/40 CD11 [2'48] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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