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Klage an den Mond, D436

First line:
Dein Silber schien
first published in 1850
author of text

Apart from the celebrated Seligkeit and the justly famous An den Mond D193 by the same poet, this Klage (for so Schubert simply named it, it was Friedländer who added three qualifying words in the Peters Edition) is the gem of the Schubert /Hölty catalogue—all the more delectable because it is so seldom sung. The poem has a remarkable density of expression; the first verse refers to the past, the second to the present, and the third to the tragedy of the future. Much is related in a short time. In remarkably few words we read the entire emotional history of a young man who was happy in his youth, but now, chastened by experience, is no longer so; the inevitable end is his death. The one constant factor in all this is the moon who has been his companion through all these phases of his story. The lines 'es zieht ein Mondenschatten / Als mein Gefährte mit' come to mind from the first song of Winterreise, and indeed this Klage is a type of Winterreise reduced to Haiku proportions. The key is F major, and the lilting vocal line is harmonised quite simply. This first verse, a lovely inspiration indeed, is followed by a piano interlude of haunting tenderness. The vocal line is the same for the second verse, but a song of innocence has yielded to a song of experience, and the tune is partially reharmonised and thereby rendered sadder and more complicated than in the happier days of the first strophe. Second guessing Schubert in strophic mood, we await expectantly a similarly modified repeat of the piano interlude. But no. We have finished with the major key and all nostalgic reminiscences, and we plunge suddenly into the dark unknown of future oblivion. Without further ado we find ourselves in the key of D minor, and once again Winterreise comes to mind, for this is the key of the cycle's first song Gute Nacht. John Reed goes so far to write, with some justification, 'the sudden shift to D minor, the repeated staccato A's in the pianist's right hand, and we are brought to the edge of the infinite.' The American scholar Susan Youens in her book Retracing a Winter's Journey (1991) sees something even more significant in those repeated semi-staccato A's. She argues persuasively that 'the grouping of four non-legato repeated pitches or chords' is a motivic device for the idea of journeying; this figure makes its appearance in the opening bar of the great song cycle, and thereafter (particularly in that other travelling song Der Wegweiser) plays a subtle but crucial part in providing something of a subliminal unifying force in the work. If this is so, the device is heralded eleven years earlier in the last verse of this Klage, itself a remarkably aphoristic song of journeys and experience; despite its brevity it shows us the astonishing future potential of our composer when Winterreise was only a moonlit gleam in his eye.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1992


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 15 – Margaret Price
CDJ33015Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 3 on CDJ33015 [1'45] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 14 on CDS44201/40 CD14 [1'45] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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