Die vier Weltalter, D391

First line:
Wohl perlet im Glase der purpurne Wein
composer
March 1816; first published as Op 111 No 3 (posth)
author of text

 
The poem dates from 1802 and, in mock-historical vein (Schiller was an historian of great repute and could be very serious about history if he wanted to be) traces four ages of the world in a poem of twelve strophes. One fanciful interpretation of a phase in the history of mankind leads to the next. In a skilful recitation the poem could make an interesting and amusing set piece. The primeval age of the shepherds is followed by the age of dragons, heroes and the cult of beauty. When the gods of Greece fell from their thrones (one of Schiller's favourite themes), the birth of Christ ushered in an era of mixed blessings — greater civilisation but also religious warfare. The song proposes yet another new age which would nurture song through the sacred flame of art kept alive by the sensibility of womankind. This is obviously the age of the medieval Minnelied and the courtly love tradition. The poem ends with these lines:

Gesang und Liebe in schönem Verein
Sie erhalten dem Leben den Jugendschein.
Song and love in beautiful union
Preserve the glow of youth lifelong.

And so say all of us! Few singers and pianists would argue that this was not a pleasant motto for a life in music. The great difficulty of this song, however, is that to sing this last verse in a way that makes sense we would have to perform all the strophes which lead up to it. Not even the composer made it clear on his manuscript (one verse written out with a repeat mark) that he had thought through the consequences of writing a strophic song of this simple and hearty type where one verse is inextricably connected with the next. The music is typical of the choruses which Schubert wrote for convivial occasions; the tune is simple enough to remember after a few repetitions, but perhaps the number of repeats that would be welcome in performance ultimately depends on the wine, and whether there is audience participation. For the purposes of this record, the quality and quantity of our listeners' cellars and voices (not to mention patience) are unknown to us. Accordingly, we have made a selection of four verses which, while not doing justice to the scope of Schiller's scenario, at least tell part of the long story in logical sequence. The rollicking tune at the end of each verse is adapted from the postlude to an earlier Schiller setting for male quartet and piano, Punschlied D277.

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

Details

Track 13 on CDJ33016 [2'01]
Track 4 on CDS44201/40 CD13 [2'01] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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