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Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall, D201

First line:
Sie ist dahin, die Maienlieder tönte
composer
First setting; first published in 1970
editor
author of text

 
On the 24th May 1815, song-proceedings, and the composer's love affair with Hölty's texts, are suddenly interrupted by the first day's work on the Third Symphony, a work which was finished in the middle of July. But the very day after this large task is begun, Schubert moonlights back to Hölty to write this song. It is one of a number of fragments, pieces not completed for one reason or another, which this series will endeavour to place, for the first time on record, in the context of the main body of Schubert's oeuvre. In some cases there is not enough material to amplify into a credible performing version and these will not be recorded for this series. In other cases substantial fragments will have to stand unashamedly as bleeding (but always red-blooded) chunks of what might have been extraordinary songs. There are a number of cases however (and this song is one) where the music is so nearly complete, and where the composer's intentions for finishing the song are so clear, that it seems unforgivable to exile the work from the performing canon, and relegate it to the role of musicological curiosity. In these cases, completion by a modern hand (and there have been a number of attempts with different songs, including no less a composer than Benjamin Britten) seems the lesser of two evils. The most thorough and long-standing work on the song fragments has been done by the indefatigable Reinhard van Hoorickx, and all Schubertians should be grateful to him for his tireless research in countless textual and historical highways and byways of the composer's art.

The manuscript of this song has disappeared, but Schubert's brother Ferdinand made a copy of it; we owe to Hoorickx its publication in 1970 in the Revue Belge de Musicologie. The composer's original vocal line peters out only in the penultimate bar of the melody and so only three (rather uncontroversial) notes are supplied for the singer. The original piano part stops three bars earlier, after the word 'wenn' in the phrase 'wenn ich am Bach'. Hoorickx has provided a prelude and five bars of accompaniment; the performers here have opted for one change of harmony from his version. Most of the song is, however, the purest Schubert. The key is F sharp minor (the gently elegiac slow movement of Mozart's A major Concerto, K488, comes to mind) and the beautiful melody is underpinned by the composer's favourite dactylic rhythm. F sharp is a tonality that Schubert often associates with death and the gentle or ghostly shadows and echoes of remembrance (cf Schwestergruss or Totengräberweise). The second version of this song (D399. 1816) is entirely different and arguably less distinguished.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 10 – Martyn Hill
CDJ33010

Details

Track 8 on CDJ33010 [2'41]
Track 21 on CDS44201/40 CD6 [2'41] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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