In Adelwod und Emma the important thing to hear and assess is surely Schubert's musical and dramatic response to a story that took his fancy perhaps for personal reasons. Is this ballad, in a part of the composer's mind, actually entitled 'Franz und Therese'? Adelwold, like Franz who had lost his mother, was an orphan. Was this fictional hero's story (a frightening father-figure thrown in for good measure adds to the piquancy) something of a spur to Schubert who felt he too could love through thick and thin. Like Adelwold he longed to make his way in the world, and he suspected that to do so he would have to leave home under a cloud. After he had proved himself he would have the right to return and love whom he chose, despite a disparity of lovers' means and backgrounds. As at the end of his extraordinary dream in 1822, Franz longed to be reconciled with his father and receive the paternal blessing.
Those listeners who doubt their ability to last out with this story for nearly a half-hour are invited to play this final music of reconciliation on Track 13, or better still, the beautiful music at Track 12 which depict Emma's heartbreak. Both are strophic passages which look unexceptional on the printed page, but Emma's music is fit for a languishing Mozartian heroine, and the closing passage is like a hymn at the end of a passion play, clean-cut and unfussy in a style which reflects a very German idea of simplicity and chivalric goodness.
The first thing to note is that Schubert elected not to set the first two verses of Bertrand's poem —a convivial minstrel's prologue in front of the curtain, and a clear invitation to the audience to swallow the ensuing absurdities, if not exactly in the spirit of fun, at least as a spanking good yarn. Wilhelm Müller wrote a similar type of prologue to Die schöne Müllerin, and eight years later Schubert ignored this apologia and chose to plunge directly into the water music of the mill-stream and the miller's song of roving. The Heine-esque smile of irony was never Schubert's forte: he takes us to the heart of a story by empathising with his characters (even if they are made of poet's cardboard) rather than by laughing at them.
Sections 1-5: The opening of this piece uses a more modern trick of the cinema—plunging us into the middle of the story at a suitably arresting point (Verses 1-11), leaving the beginning of the narrative, or at least its background (verses 12-15) to a flash-back in the middle. The soap-opera aspect of Wagner's tetralogy (with its story recapitulations in case you have missed the first episodes) also comes to mind. Another film trick is the lack of overture, or in film terms opening titles (these seem to come much later), there is a peremptory chord of F major and music begins with a bleak and stark picture, the piano doubling the voice part. Triplets come into the music with the mention of water and wind, but this castle, and the life within it, is unadorned. All is primeval German austerity; after all this is an age where bears are at the front door, rather than inside in their later, and more luxurious, role as rugs. In this uncompromising male environment the feminine touch emerges with the voice of Emma whose pliant and pleading music is reminiscent of the music of the princess in Der Taucher when she pleads with her tyrant father, the King. We learn that Emma's father (a mere knight, but nevertheless formidable) is concerned for his youngest, and sole surviving son who is asleep in his little room. There is no mention of him later in the story; indeed the implication that he is but a boy is belied by the fact the king's consort has been dead for fifteen years. Who, pray, is then the boy's mother? Has she died in childbirth, and is the boy Emma's twin? Life is as obtuse and unexplained in this kingdom as in the Allemonde of Pélleas and Mélisande. Emma's heartfelt lines 'Father, since I was young I have sought to win your approval', set to ascending chromatic harmonies, are probably the ones that struck a chord with the composer.
Sections 6-7: The main characters having been established, we are now led into the bowels of the castle in music of labyrinthine meandering and sinister syncopation. If this was a film it would be here that the titles would roll, vivid pictures replacing words of narrative. The seven lamps, one each to represent the king's dead sons in the family mausoleum, are described, but the narrator suddenly finds himself unable to continue the morbid account, and recitative breaks into this 4/4 aria. Interestingly, this first-person interruption is by the composer turned wordsmith, who declines to set Bernard's original lines; he wishes quickly to reintroduce the patriarch's voice, and thus keep the pace going.
Sections 8-9: The Knight now has a set-piece aria, tracing the noble lineage of his family in a proud polonaise, the dotted rhythm accompaniment holding the music back, like a proud war-horse reined and pawing the ground. The sound of the last trump (Posaune) sounds in the pianist's left hand, similar to its appearance in Dem Unendlichen written a few months later. The king makes his cruel request that Emma marry a real hero, and begins to curse the interloper—Adelwold of course—whose love for Emma is standing in the way of this plan.
Sections 10-11: Panic-stricken music in 4/4 returns; as in verses 6-7 this has legato left-hand cellos with pulsating wind instrument quavers tongued on the off-beat. This music, in its dizzy chromatic sweep and its breathless and delicate femininity, is uncannily prophetic of the flight of the tormented Viola in Verses 12-13 of the flower ballad of that name. The charader of the unhappy Adelwold is introduced at the end of the verse to enable us to concentrate on his background, in effect a cinematic close-up, and the real beginning of the story, from the next verse.
Sections 12-16: In the manner of a straightforward Loewe ballad, events concerning Adelwold's history over a number of years are quickly covered. In this narrative style there is a suggestion of horn music, with quavers in a trusty 4/4. This little knight music is appropriate enough for a Ritter. As soon as Emma comes into the picture (Verse 13), the music blossoms into triplets and climbs a semitone as if her purity inspires a gaze heavenward. The weaving flourish on 'webt' is a nice turn of events. The blossoming of a May-time romance between the pair inspires a vocal line of tendrils of high-flowering fioriture, tricky for any singer. We return to masculine duplets for Verse 14 and more of Adelwold's feelings, a quite deliberate decision to paint him in a steadfast manner. When he even thinks of Emma however, the triplets (like a heart set a-flutter) and the flowing bel canto manner, return. In the middle of verse 15, Emma'c music breaks into recitative brushing aside the banal prospect of money and finery (with a rather banal money-counting ascending chromatic line) in favour of the most beautiful thought of her lover and a rapt cadence on the words 'Traum von Adelwold'. The two lines of verse 16 (Schubert cut 6 lines of Bertrand here) return to the palpitation figure in the piano, alternating hands on the keyboard depicting feminine desperation. Emma's characterisation (unlike some of Schubert's tougher heroines, her stoic suffering is reminiscent of that of Florence Dombey or Little Dorrit) is a study for the delicate dejection of Minna in Lieb Minna written a fortnight later. We can almost hear the petite shape of the type of girl he has in mind.
Sections 17-20: Enter Adelwold, and the first of the set-pieces in this ballad that has the simplicity of a crusader's hymn, a genre to which Schubert was partial throughout his career. This music is 'for damnably high tenor', to quote one ot the Schubert circle writing about a much later piece for the same type of voice, Nachthelle. The controlled nobility of his aria breaks down under emotional stress and we glimpse some of the conflicting things that perhaps attracted the composer to this poem: the desire to avoid doing his father dishonour, at the same time as the need to leave home on a crusade of self-discovery. After one line of Verse 19, Adelwold is interrupted by a single high note on the piano, as if the resonances of his precious childhood memories have made time stand still, momentarily staunching the flow of his aria. Emma hysterically climbing sequences respond to his decision to leave her. A moment of wild and unwise passion built around rising chromatic patterns in panting quavers and triplets (the symbolic mixing and merging of the two type of note-values that have thus far characterised hero and heroine) and Adelwold tears himself away only with the help of a rattling piano interlude. Schubert then builds-in a further six bars to denote the passage of time and allow a cinematic close-up of Emma addressing her father, a short aria in A minor, with tolling left hand octaves to sound the knell of all her hopes.
Sections 22-24: This wonderful music, homage to the spirit of Mozart in the chromatic mood of his piano fantasias lies at the heart of this ballad. There has been so much to-ing and fro-ing that it is a relief at last to have what is, in effect, a strophic lament. Schubert transposes the order of Bertrands's verses here so as to keep the story of Emma's fading away within one musical section. This also means that the end of Verse 24 makes a better transition into the music of pre-Wagnerian Götterdämmerung.
Sections 25-29: This music, a little orgy of sturring chromaticism ( or perhaps more accurately, chromatic stirring) is probably why Maurice Brown and John Reed talk about the 'silent film' music of this piece, an interesting observation in that the silent film stands almost halfway between Schubert's time and ours and is one of the last vestiges of the sort of melodrama which dominated the nineteenth century and was so dear to Dickens for example. In Peter Ackroyd's words in his biography of that writer: 'What seems to us now stale, faded, sentimental and grotesque then hit audiences with a fresh blast of life and truth. For of course every new 'realism' eventually seems pale and thin, as 'reality' itself changes its form'. In improvising music of this kind, the early film pianists were providing musical illustration in a tradition which in a way stretched back to Schubert and which he would have understood perhaps even mistaking the sound of the pit piano for the fortepiano with which he was familiar. It is admittedly ridiculous that the Knight's castle is hit by lightning—even Bertrand seems to find it humorous in lines that Schubert chooses not to set. But the concept is no more ridiculous than the fact that Krook, a character in Dickens' Bleak House dies of spontaneous combustion. This is, after all, part of the grand melodramatic tradition of the nineteenth century. If harmonic coherence seems to give way in this sedion, it is appropriate that it should do so in the general panic, along with the pillars, arches and crossbeams of the castle. The extra words 'für sie' at the end of Verse 27 are the composer's addition, less sensitive than he was later to become to rhyme and metre. Schubert equates the concept of pleas falling on deaf ears (Verse 28) with four solid bars of unchanging B flat rumblings; it as if to be deaf is to be insensitive to modulation which is, after all, to someone like Schubert, the very point of being able to hear. Adelwold the saviour appears with fanfares and manly quavers; the change from F major to D flat (on 'Endlich fasst er die theure, süsse Last') mirrors the surprise of his unlikely success in rescuing Emma. Her return to consciousness hinges on the enharmonic change between A flat in a seventh chord on B flat, and G sharp in E major ('doch beginnt ein leises Beben') and the change from the unmeasured oscillations ('Taktlos') in the piano to the measured semiquavers of heartbeat and pulse. We are, incidentally, never told what happens to the king's eighth son who was mentioned early on in the ballad, and who has perhaps slept through the whole episode.
Sections 30-35: There has been such a lot of rattling 4/4 that it is now a happy inspiration to introduce a sensuous 6/8 passage, with changes in harmonic colour, to depict the return of colour to the heroine's cheeks. This is a wonderful way to contrast external catastrophe with the internal re-awakening of the body. Emma's rapt recitative (she seems to have been blissfully asleep, rather than asphyxiated by smoke) is perilously high, but then she has almost been in another world, and it would be ungallant to point out that the voice of any recently awakened soprano lies in her boots. After the knight has recognised Adelwold there is a measured and kingly aria in E minor (Verse 33), but it is a sign of Adelwold's new stature that it is he who now sings this kind of authoritative music, while the Knight is reduced to wondering recitative. At the beginning of Verse 35 a hushed modulation shows Emma's fear, and her suspense in waiting for her father's judgement.
Sections 36-38: There are some who would regard the ending of this ballad, three strophic verses, as anti-climactic. But this music, in B major, at once courtly and redolent of generosity and forgiveness, is positively Mozartian, an amplification of the countess's intervention in the finale of the last act of Le nozze di Figaro. Something of the feeling of the sacred seriousness of Idomeneo also comes to mind. The feeling of strength and tradition both musical and personal, is absolutely intentional. It makes one realise again that the strophic solution in Schubert's case, is no soft option. He is proud to have discovered a tune good enough to fit a number of strophes, and a tune worthy of repetition. Above all he is proud of the character of the Knight who has proved capable of such transformation. It is not only the Knight who has forgiven Adelwold and Emma, but Schubert himself who has forgiven the old patriarch. The potential villain of the piece is now converted Scrooge-like, into a figure of wisdom and dignified joy. There could be no better indication of Schubert's own hopes that the power of his music could likewise change his father, who doubted his son's musical future, into a believer.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990
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