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The prevailing mood is one of wanting to fly free, to be in the swim, to be able to join the dance of Life to which the rest of the world is twirling in giddy waltz rhythm. The key word in the title is 'Drang', which implies an urgency or pressure in the longing for escape to distant lands. There is considerable impatience here, and the numerous end-stopped lines induce a breathy haste in which one idea seems to tumble over the other. The poet allows his thoughts to surge forward at a tempo at which it would be impossible for anyone else to get a word in edgeways; there is simply no chink in his flow of justifications to allow the parental listener to raise a word of objection. And all the while in the background there is intoxicating waltz music, and the boy in Cinderella fashion is saying 'Can I, too, go to the ball?' The words of the poem talk about of the great outdoors, but the music murmurs also of company and wine, women and song—the sensuality denied to those with a strict upbringing. Drang in die Ferne is one of a handful of songs where we are made acutely aware that Schubert was a prolific composer of dance music. Täuschung from Winterreise is another. The Deutsch catalogue lists well over a hundred Waltzes, not to mention innumerable Deutsche, Ländler and Ecossaises; lost for ever into thin air are the thousands of tunes played by a perspiring young man, without a partner of his own, seated at the piano while his friends danced to his improvisations.
Sections 1 - 3: The mood of the waltz song is set in the three bars of introduction—a rising A minor figure which sidles upwards for an octave before descending more slowly in a sigh of longing. The first vocal entry ('Vater, du glaubst es nicht') is fashioned after the tune of the introduction, and is accompanied by the left hand alone, marking time in dance rhythm. For the next bar ('wie mir zum Herzen spricht') the voice repeats the pattern of the previous bar, this time a third higher; underneath it the piano plays the notes of 'Vater, du glaubst es nicht', thus setting up a pattern of canonic imitation between voice and piano which pervades the whole song. It is this which adds a special urgency to the young man's case, for it suggests the physical movement of facial and body language; it is as if he is reinforcing his words with pleading expressions and imploring gestures. Verses 1 is in A minor and runs directly into Verse 2 which switches suddenly into C major, modulating at 'aber bei Blumen nicht' into G major. Then, after an ingratiating bar of interlude, back to C major for Verse 3 which seems at first to be more or less a repeat of Verse 2 until a sudden modulation into A major. As ever with Schubert, the juxtaposition of A minor and major is a metaphor for romantic Sehnsucht.
Sections 4 - 6: Except for a tiny change of one note, dictated by word-setting considerations, the music for Verse 4 is a repeat of Verse 1. Without pause for thought, Verse 5 switches into new music in the subdominant (D minor) and leads straight into Verse 6 which is the central emotional pivot point of the piece and the verse with the most vehement word repetitions until the protracted coda. The almost hysterical tone (achieved by a highly-strung operatic repetition of 'Ich muss') and the dwelling on the implications of parting, raise the song's temperature considerably; F major and its related chromatic territory is explored up hill and down dale ('fordern den Scheidekuss'). The effect of this is remarkably expressive; partially because of the heightened vocal tessitura, it is as if the young man is countering parental objections with increased intensity, and louder voice. This does not last for long. At the repeat of 'Vater und Mutter mein, müsset nicht böse sein' we land in the dominant of C major, and as frustration gives way to gentle affection, a few reconciliatory bars of interlude lead us into the calmer waters of that key for the beginning of Verse 7.
Sections 7 - 10: Verses 7 and 8 are exact musical repeats of Verses 2 and 3; Verse 8 modulates to A major (in the same manner as Verse 3) but instead of immediately softening into the tonic minor it remains in A major. Verse 9 begins with a bar of piano music in this key which is similar in shape to the introduction of the song. The music for this section gives us a moment of quietude due to a tonic pedal for five whole bars; it is as if we are lifted away from human problems and see the world in a less troubled (and thus less harmonically changeable) perspective. The repeat of the words 'den um die ganze Welt schirmend der Schöpfer hält' is a triumphant and rather epic excursion into the dominant which encompasses the glory of creation. And then—sudden emptiness; the singer has realised that he might never come back. For six bars we are haunted by thoughts of mortality and, in the piano's right hand, the passing bell, das Zügenglöcklein, for those who have died. But such thoughts are soon thrown off; only think, the boy tells his parents, he has found the promised land. 'Lieben, so denkt, er fand glücklich das schön're Land'. Schubert seizes on the word 'fand' to launch the final fantastic pipe-dream; the music is derived from Verse 6 of course because it is there we heard of the 'parting kiss'. The leave-taking is therefore accomplished in the music although the actual words sung at this point are of 'das schön're Land'. The final vocal peroration (repeats of those words) takes the voice into the heights as if it is a bird flying off into freedom. The piano in its postlude also takes wing, at first in the confident A major of the singer's parting, but staying to voice more doubtful feelings (those of the parents?) in the minor key. In the last three bars the young man disappears over the top of the keyboard's horizon as the pianist's left hand descends into the abyss of the bass. Only a void remains between, and a rolled chord of warning that everything may not, after all, turn out for the best. Perhaps the final words were prophetic of what is actually going to happen to our traveller, and that he is destined for Elysian fields rather than greener pastures. And then with a shudder we recall that this song was written at the same time that the composer was suffering the first symptoms of syphilis. His hard-won freedom to be his own master had resulted in greater independence and maturity, but in the enjoyment of that freedom he had contracted an illness which was to change his life for ever.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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