Albericht von Wallenstein, a general in the Thirty Year's War, was the subject of a trilogy of plays by Schiller, completed and first performed in 1799. In Act III of the second of these plays, Die Piccolomini
, Wallenstein's daughter Thekla is parted from her lover Max Piccolomini. The lovers, from opposing families, are caught up in a Romeo and Juliet situation. According to the play, Thekla picks up a guitar lying on the table and begins to accompany herself—after playing a melancholy prelude. Like a number of the Schiller poems to which Schubert was attracted, but which he found problematic, this text was set three times over a five-year period. A tempestuous and almost unsingable version dates from 1811, and the 1815 setting was first composed without that melancholy prelude described in the play; the matter was rectified on publication, probably more for practical reasons than on grounds of authenticity. In any case, Schubert almost certainly first encountered the text in an edition of poems which included all four verses (the play only prints two). The third version of 1816, which has more of a guitar-inspired accompaniment, is comparatively unknown; there is something about the brooding intensity of the 1815 setting which has made it a firm favourite, added to its privileged place in the first volume of the Peters edition. The opening line of the song bears an uncanny resemblance to the Lacrimosa
of the Mozart Requiem, a work was much in Schubert's thoughts at this time. There is much however that is the purest of Schubert: the charming, almost pastoral turn of melody on the words 'an Ufers Grün' for example, and the way in which the powerful left hand underpins and illustrates the words 'mit Macht, mit Macht'. The passionate grief-laden sweep of the vocal line (wonderfully crafted to accommodate Schiller's five-line strophe) made it a great favourite with those who like their Lieder on the histrionic side, among whom could be numbered many a nineteenth-century Russian singer. Mussorgsky was said to have played the stormy introduction with spine-chilling intensity.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989