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Trost in Tränen, D120

First line:
Wie kommt’s, dass du so traurig bist
composer
published in 1835 in volume 25 of the Nachlass
author of text

 
The tradition of setting this poem for voice and piano spans a number of generations: a succession of modest and simple songs by Zelter (1803), Reichardt (final version published in 1809), Schubert (1814), and Brahms (1858). The most ambitious setting falls outside the scope of the Lied—a four part a cappella chorus, with elaborate variations of mood and rhythm, by Peter Cornelius (1872). Loewe also set the poem as a simple three-part unaccompanied chorus. But the first four composers named above who were proud to be part of a continuing tradition, have an eerie unanimity in tackling such a task. There is something ineffably German about a folksong of this kind framed in question and answer dialogue; simplicity and repetition are to be relished rather than avoided, as if even one's most musically limited brethren are to be included in the sing-song. There is also something about the text which reflects the German temperament: the tears are wept into the beer for the sheer enjoyment of it all. It was also Goethe who wrote another poem on similar lines, Wonne der Wehmuth—'Delight in Melancholy' (set by both Beethoven and Schubert). So little do we seem to understand the Germanic love of melancholy for its own sake that a young English singer once hopefully offered me 'The Wonder of Weymouth' as a translation of that song's title.

The Zelter setting of Trost in Tränen is in E minor throughout, apart from a consoling G sharp in the final cadence. This last minute lift to the major key was to be adopted by Schubert, as well as Zelter's 6/8 rhythm. Reichardt's song seems to have influenced Schubert even more: he adopts Reichardt's key of F major (which also falls into F minor for the woebegone replies) and the shape of Schubert's melodic line also stems from this setting. It all seems to be a type of homage to the past: instead of being taken up by the next table at a beer hall, the song is taken up and subtly modified by succeeding generations. When he came to write his song, Brahms had relatively recently been welcomed by Schumann into the fold of sacred torch-bearers. He elaborates the end of each verse, as earlier generations had declined to do, with a touching piano postlude, but there are a number of self-conscious bows to the past. Brahms's setting is in 6/8 of course, in the major key for the exhortations and in the minor for the replies. When a wan smile shines through the tears, the song melts back into the major, although not surprisingly it is Schubert who achieves this effect best of all. It was after all Schubert who was ideally placed in history to write successful strophic songs. Those by his antecedents can all too easily sound dull and timid, those by his successors deliberately archaic and hopelessly nostalgic for the simplicity of former times. Schubert's own simplicity was a natural part of his temperament, and this along with his patience (like the young teacher he was, repeating the same thing a number of times so that it may enter and stay in the heads of his pupils) equipped him to make time stand still in the writing of his best strophic songs.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 12 – Adrian Thompson
CDJ33012
Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
HYP200Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

Details

Track 19 on CDJ33012 [3'42]
Track 8 on CDS44201/40 CD4 [3'42] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 19 on HYP200 [3'42] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

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