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An Emma, D113

First line:
Weit in nebelgrauer Ferne
composer
published in April 1826 as Op 56 (later changed to Op 58) No 2
author of text

 
There is no clue in Schiller's life as to who Emma was, or under what circumstances this beautiful elegy for lost love (Schillers title is 'Elegie an Emma') was written. It could well be imagined as a monologue from a play where the mere resonance of a woman's name (Laura is of course another example) creates a gently perfumed atmosphere of innocence and sorrow. The poem dates from 1797 (the time of Schillers most intense collaboration with Goethe in the field of poem and ballad) and was published in the Musenalmanach in 1798. It inspired one of Schubert's most original and successful Schiller settings. In its use of free-flowing recitative and arioso it is comparable to the remarkable first version of the Schiller Thekla (D73, Volume 1) and Trost. An Elisa (Volume 12), a Matthisson setting from earlier in the same year.

All three versions of this song are published one after the other in the Gesamtausgabe, which would seem to suggest that they were dashed off within a few days of each other, if not on the same day, at least all in 1814. But it is also possible that Schubert prepared the second version only when it was needed as a supplement to a magazine in 1821 and that he altered this again when the song was published as part of Op 56 in 1826. These three versions of An Emma (or Emma as the first edition and Peters Edition have it) differ in such tiny details that separate performances of them could scarcely be differentiated by the general listener. They do however give the scholar a glimpse into the Schubert Workshop and show how much thought the composer gave, as he got older, to achieving ever more transparent simplicity with texts which he loved and respected. The first version is in 2/4 and is accompanied almost throughout by flowing triplets. The cadence at the repeat of the words 'ist es nur der Schein der Nacht' is in the dominant of the relative minor. In the second version the time changes to 6/8, the triplet movement is broken from time to time by other note valúes, and words quoted above now lead us into the much darker regions of the relative minor itself. The final version reverts to 2/4 with an increased use of dotted notes in the vocal line which gives it more of an improvisational feeling and a greater independence from the piano part. There are a number of beautiful details: the interplay of voice and piano in contrary motion, suggesting starlight and its mirror reflection at 'aber wie des Sternes Pracht'; the almost Italianate vocal line (accompanied by triplets in bel canto manner) of 'Deckte dir der lange Schlummer' and the lovely sequence following it. The song ends in the tonic key but somehow contrives to leave the poet's question hanging poignantly in the air. The revisions, whatever their dates, were largely an exercise in working towards finding the clearest means of notating arioso with enough shape to differentiate it from recitative, and with enough implied freedom to loosen the rhythmic straitjacket of conventional aria.

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. 16 – Thomas Allen
CDJ33016
Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
HYP200Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

Details

Track 7 on CDJ33016 [2'19]
Track 14 on CDS44201/40 CD3 [2'19] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 11 on HYP200 [2'19] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

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