Phidile, D500

First line:
Ich war erst sechzehn Sommer alt
composer
November 1816; first published 1895
author of text

 
It has always been a part of the history of German comic song to recount seduction in a fashion that is simultaneously salacious and reproving. We British need no lessons from the Germans in the hypocrisy of describing something forbidden in lewd detail, all the better, in the next breath, self-righteously to condemn it as disgusting. Mozart's Lied Die Alte unveils the cant of an older generation claiming that the morals of the young have gone to the dogs, and Haydn wrote a number of songs which would have been worthy of the English music hall of Marie Lloyd's time. There is a tradition, recounted by Deutsch, that Schubert's mother used to sing an early setting of these words by the composer Johann Anton Steffan, published in 1778. We can only wonder what she made of it, and whether the poem in any way reflected her own experience at the hands of the composer's father.

One of the most pleasurable frissons in this comedy of double standards (for aficionados of the genre that is) is the prospect of sophistication flagrantly masquerading as innocence; this is the domain of the stage schoolgirl of precocious development who teases her public as to how great her experience of life may, or may not, be. In an attempt to court popular success, Schubert was to compose two substantial songs of this type (the words by Gabriel Seidl) in the last year of his life: Die Unterscheidung and Die Männer sind méchant. Whilst the Claudius poem has a gentle sweetness which is a long way from Seidl's Viennese suggestiveness, it is an early example of a gentle comedy song which depends greatly on the singer and accompanist for interpretation. The marking is 'Unschuldig' ('Innocent'), but this obviously applies to the green girl who sings the first verse rather than the rather better informed young lady who sings the last. In any case, Schubert's setting of the word 'unschuldig' in the song's first line incorporates an arch high note which is the musical equivalent of the sort of look from a wide-eyed ingénue which would undermine any belief in her true innocence. The melody in G flat and the gently undulating accompaniment are all that might be desired of a pastoral song along the lines of Haydn's My mother bids me bind my hair. The postlude is one of the more extended and inventive in the strophic songs of 1816.

Matthias Claudius was one of Schubert's most important poets in that there is a special quality to his work, a delight in the small things of life, a celebration of the beauties of everyday existence, which chimed with the composer's own viewpoint and released some of Schubert's most enchanting musical ideas. Not every Claudius poem is as dramatic as Der Tod und das Mädchen, yet the interchangeability of life and death were always in the forefront of the poet's mind (he nicknamed Death 'Freund Hain'); there was also always a deep understanding of this, the ambivalence of major and minor, on Schubert's part. Composer and poet shared a non-sentimental awareness of the transience of life; in almost all of his thirteen Claudius settings Schubert matches the tenderness and simplicity, as well as the gentle ache and pathos, of the verse.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 17 – Lucia Popp
CDJ33017

Details

Track 20 on CDJ33017 [4'20]
Track 22 on CDS44201/40 CD16 [4'20] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Track-specific metadata for CDJ33017 track 20

Artists
ISRC
GB-AJY-93-01720
Duration
4'20
Recording date
9 April 1992
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 16 Track 22
    Release date: October 2005
    40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)