Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt 'Sehnsucht', D310a

First setting, second version; first published 1895
author of text

Innumerable composers have grappled with this elusive text, and most of them have failed. Tchaikovsky's None but the lonely heart (it is best known by the title of its Victorian translation) has the virtue of an unforgettable melody, but it does not take into account the shy and reclusive character of Mignon in Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. Schubert's struggles with this poem were heroic and full of love; it was as if he identified strongly with Mignon's plight, and the way that her sufferings, like his, were private ones, a burden of woe unshared. It is no surprise that his definitive A minor setting of the poem in 1826 was in a way the simplest, refined down to the absolute essentials; after the versions on this disc he tried twice again in 1816, and then spent a decade thinking how best to catch the spirit of the girl's grief in music. His efforts with this text, culminating in the great song mentioned above (D877 No 4), as well as a magnificent duet for soprano and tenor (D877 No 1), thus began with these two attempts made on the same day in 1815. In this series of discs it will not always be possible to record two versions of songs that are as nearly alike as these, but with this lyric, and because they were composed within a few hours of each other, it seemed interesting to show how Schubert's mind was working.

First version: The original key is A flat with a touching but rather static tune, and changes of key signature on almost every line: A flat to E and back, and then to B minor via a kaleidoscopic series of enharmonic modulations. The lines 'Es schwindelt mir, es brennt mein Eingeweide' are the obvious bugbears. The words are too strong and over too quickly for Schubert to be able to make much of them in music. The recapitulation uses the same tune as the beginning, and the piano postlude is eloquent and heartfelt.

Second version: The key has changed to F major, which places the whole tessitura in a less hysterical and more reflective part of the voice. Much of the first section is merely a transposition of the first version, but tremolandi are now used to heighten the emotional temperature on the difficult words: he repeats 'es brennt mein Eingeweide' which gives him more time to make an effect with the passage, although it is still not satisfactory. The return of the tune is set up by a piano interlude in triplets and the vocal line is given an ornate Italianate sweep with more of a feel of cantilena. The postlude is also thus energised; with its throbbing triplets it bears a family resemblance to the piano writing of Memnon of 1817.from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 7 – Elly Ameling
CDJ33007Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 24 on CDJ33007 [2'29] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 2 on CDS44201/40 CD11 [2'29] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

Track-specific metadata for CDJ33007 track 24

Recording date
18 August 1989
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 7 – Elly Ameling (CDJ33007)
    Disc 1 Track 24
    Release date: December 1990
    Deletion date: January 2010
    Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
  2. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 11 Track 2
    Release date: October 2005
    40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)