Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
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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