There is no real performing practice tradition of Don Gayseros as even Fischer-Dieskau left the work out of his complete song survey of the 1970s. Part of his reasoning must have been the long stretches of the music where a male singer would have to impersonate the character of Donna Clara in direct speech, and where a female singer would have the same problems with the music of the eponymous hero. The music cries out for operatic casting. Die Advokaten was written for more than one voice, as were a number of the Salieri exercises, and much of the music from this time is choral. In Schubert's school years he must have had enormous fun performing with his student friends—we know that even Erlkönig was performed on occasion with four voices. Accordingly we present Don Gayseros here in a somewhat dramatised form, allotting the work to three singers in a way that suggests the drawing room (or school room) rather than the concert hall.
(I) This song is an unashamed experiment in trying to build musical tension by the use of modulation: the cat and mouse game between Donna Clara and her mysterious paramour is mirrored by a whole chain of key changes. What is extraordinary is that Schubert gives the pianist so little to do. The entire 'role' of Donna Clara is doubled note for note by the piano. It is almost as if Schubert is demonstrating the art of modulation to one of his friends, or has taken a bet as to how many times he can change key in a single piece. It is interesting that this type of modulation has so passed into the vocabulary of modern popular music, each modulation capping the last as the story unfolds, that Schubert's experiments sound somewhat banal. In the beginning, each musical unit—the exchange between the two characters—lasts for three strophes. The first of these progresses from F (Donna Clara) to B flat (Don Gayseros). Then E flat (Donna Clara) to A flat and D flat (both Don Gayseros). The screw then begins to turn by using only two verses for each exchange—and modulations follow thick and fast: G flat to B major, G to C, F to B flat, and finally F to A flat. There are no fewer than eleven changes of key signature in the piece. Apart from this juxtaposition of tonalities which effectively paints the mounting suspicion of Donna Clara that her lover is not a Christian, the musical characterisation of the would-be lovers is rhythmically wooden. The only thing that interests the composer here, it seems, is the tonal scheme. Indeed, it seems that he has set out to prove that this alone can make a song interesting.
(II) The opening of this song seems the most genuinely Schubertian in terms of melody and shape. The implacable duple time of the previous piece yields to the lilt of 3/4. There even seems to be an attempt to bring to the music the feel of a serenade in the warm south, with a fragrantly blossoming vocal line. This is interrupted an effective change of mood when Donna Clara confronts the knight. His answer (Verse 5) begins in the Spanish serenade fashion of the opening, but when he reveals his true Moorish colours the flowing triplets dry up: the key is A flat, and stark chords underpin the confession. The modulation game begins again as he attempts to woo her to his side, and one is tempted to credit Schubert with the idea that the two characters' backgrounds are so out of key with each other that conflicting tonalities are used as an analogue for creeds alien to each other—it is as if the runic magic of different key signatures is symbolic of opposing religious rites. The final verse where Donna Clara is carried away, an Entführung in a burst of very conventional piano passage work, seems both hackneyed and unconvincingly abrupt. It seems that there may have been a more extended postlude which has not survived.
(III) The four bars of piano introduction which open this song could have been the beginning of an extended piece of Spanish pastiche. The cycle is so full of musical sequences that in places they sound mechanical and lifeless, but the ear cries out for them here. It seems likely that this fandango introduction was meant to be much longer and that the music is lost. The recitative in E flat which covers developments in the story does little to characterise the implausible newcomers to the scene, including brothers conveniently placed to rescue Donna Clara, a neurotic horse and a band of mercenaries. Schubert passes over these as quickly as possible, and he was probably right to do so. As soon as Donna Clara kneels beside the corpse the song begins in earnest, in A minor. John Reed finds the 'fast and determined' tempo the composer asks for here inappropriate to depict Donna Clara's remorse. This would be true for a German heroine in distress, but I believe that Schubert is attempting to invent music here that seems to him to be genuinely Sevillian; the remorse has the dark temperament of Spain, and the harmonies, suggestive of an old passacaglia, are driven forward by guitar chords riding on a striding left hand evocative of a dance rhythm which encompasses both anger and grief. It is as if she has entered temporarily into the barbarian world that Don Gayseros wanted her to inhabit with him. Sure enough, with 'Endlich baun die treuen Brüder dort Kapell' ihr und Altar' the sense of the words is reflected by a shift back to the 'Christian' tonality of E flat, with its trinity key signature of three flats. The barbaric intensity of wide open chords is softened by the reversion to hymn book harmonies hugging and following the vocal line with a duty worthy of a nun's vows. But the thrust of that striding left hand rhythm remains as a discreet echo of the passion, the chance of another life, that Donna Clara has lost.
The poems by Friedrich, Baron de la Motte Fouqué, come from what was probably the most successful work of his career, a novel entitled Der Zauberring—'The Magic Ring'. This was published in 1813 and became an immediate best-seller. It is not inconceivable that the work, which had a great vogue, reached Schubert's hands through his friend Josef von Spaun. If the composer set the words 'hot off the press', the Don Gayseros cycle would date from late 1813 to early 1814. As so often in picaresque novels, various characters are called upon to tell stories from their native lands. Don Hernandez who was 'a man of very tall stature, with a dark sunburnt visage' (I quote from the novel's English translation of 1825) is requested to tell a tale from his own 'wonderful and romantic country, especially somewhat of the long an fearful conflicts between the Christians and Moors'. The theme of the work is reconciliation between these warring religions, a theme which was to re-emerge in Schubert's work in 1823 in the opera Fierrabras. It is also notable that Fouqué's play Eginhard and Emma was also one of Josef Kupelwieser's sources when he came to fashion the libretto for that opera. Heinrich Heine was much later to model his famous poem Donna Clara on Fouqué's poem. This gives the Christian versus Moor conflict a racial twist: at a suitably triumphant moment, the virtuous and good-looking hero reveals himself to the anti-semitic Donna Clara, (who is much taken with his charm and looks) as the son of the Rabbi Israel of Zaragoza.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991