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This is one of the undoubted musical masterpieces of the set, and we hear obsession at every turn. The song is in A minor, a very special key for Schubert, very often reserved for characters who in twentieth-century terms would require many a session on the psychiatrist's couch. Thus the crazed old harper from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister sings to us in this key, as does the abused Mignon, his daughter by an incestuous union. The sexually ambivalent Atys of Greek mythology is given voice in A minor, as is Count von Platen in the bitter plaint of unreciprocated homosexual love, Du liebst mich nicht. In this key the character of Johann Mayrhofer is delineated in all its neurotic vulnerability in Abendstern, as is the woefully obsessed Hippolytus. Even more closely connected, by both motival and tonal similarities, is Der Zwerg, the sick tale of a dwarf who kills his queen (and presumably employer) for being unfaithful—with the king of all unlikely people! This surpasses even Schulze's distorted view of his own importance in relation to the rest of the world. Schulze ends Auf den wilden Wegen locked in the same metaphorical Schubertian asylum as this fascinating, if sometimes gruesome, array of characters.
The introduction, distantly related to that of Drang in die Ferne in the same key, seems to take off in an effort to escape, to fly free of the bars in an ascending melodic curve: at the top of the pulsating chords, C naturals rise to C sharps and Ds and we briefly tarry in the second inversion of the subdominant; the forces at hand are then recouped and redirected for an assault on the dominant itself, but we are denied this change of scenery at the very last moment by a sidestep, effected with psychopathic cunning, back into the first inversion of the inevitable A minor. As in Der Zwerg, the left hand plays in the rhythm of Beethoven's 'Fate' motif from the Fifth Symphony, here an anacrusis of three semiquavers plus a strong beat crotchet. This rhythm is seldom absent throughout the song, and as a result the work has the momentum and import of some of the composer's great symphonic finales. The first line of the poem tells us that this rhythm signifies the beating of the heart. With 'O Herz, sei endlich stille' the poet begs it to be silent, which is to ask not only for relief from palpitations but for release from life itself. This is not a viable solution for the poet's dilemma; the request is dismissed out of hand, and the pulses continue to pound. On 'es ist ja des Himmels Wille' as in Verse 4 of Über Wildemann we move into A major—a tonality suitable for the heavens, or, more precisely, cloud-cuckoo land; the parting of the lovers is nothing to do with God's will, it is Adelheid's, as Schulze admits in the very next verse. This change of key reflects exactly the sickly-sweet air of sanctimonious masochism inherent in these lines. The third and fourth lines of the strophe are repeated, plus a further repeat of 'dass ich sie lassen soll'. This creation of what is in effect an asymmetrical seven-line strophe is exactly what happens in the first and last verses of Über Wildemann, but this pattern pertains to every verse here; as strophe succeeds strophe, these repetitions of the final lines seem more and more like an uncontrollable nervous tic, a symptom of real illness.
In the second verse we hear the same implied promises of release from A minor, but they are broken; we see tonal avenues open up only to have the gates slammed in our face. We are allowed a brief walk down a path that had been paced by the vocal line of Lebensmut: on the repeat of 'ihr nur Freude gegeben' the optimism of the relative major prompts a bold and hearty downward C major arpeggio (the joy he gave to her) which is then contrasted with the muddy chromaticism of what she has inflicted on him ('so mag's verloren sein'). Verse 3 is similar to Verse 2 but it slips into the major again for another invocation to God to be the poet's witness; the deity is here made to inhabit the A major region of impossible dreams. The piano interlude that now follows is almost exactly the same as the introduction, and Verse 4 is a repeat of Verse 1; the form reveals itself to be as subtle as that of Im Frühling, this time a rondo as well as a modified strophic song. The inevitable A major excursion in Verse 4 alights on words more touching ('träumen von schöneren Tagen') and less manipulative, than in previous strophes. As if to acknowledge a more sincere use of poetic metaphor the composer changes the key signature officially to his beloved A major for Verses 5 and 6; we find ourselves in the open air where Schulze acknowledges the beauties of the real world ('die Blüten … die Vögel') for the first time in this poem, albeit seen through Adelheid's eyes. Because of its high-lying tessitura, the vehement and unhinged final repeat of 'klagen sollst du nicht mehr' seems to be spat out, or screamed. This brief glimpse of rage is all the more powerful for the fleeting nature of its appearance. One realises all the anger the poet feels against Adelheid is, by a devious psychotic process, redirected against himself.
The final verse is a much modified repeat of Verse 5 and we leave Schulze gazing up at the stars, his attention drawn from the tumultuous workings of his own racked body and ruined mind, to the impervious workings of nature. Among these celestial messengers there is one, 'der liebliche Stern', which, like so much else in his unhappy short life, he was never to find. The last few bars of the postlude seem to suggest some sort of solution or sign of healing, as if the composer has it in his power to allow a tortured spirit to reach his star after all. The immortality and fame Schulze so longed for were to be his only as part of the shining constellation of Schubert's poets. The composer sometimes adds his own comment to the postlude of a song in the manner of a signature or seal. Schulze had been dead only eight years; the final cadence of An mein Herz is plagal, in gentle benison, as if to whisper 'rest in peace'.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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