Hyperion Records

Zur guten Nacht, D903
First line:
Horcht auf! Es schlägt die Stunde
January 1827; published in 1827 as Op 81 No 3
author of text

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Zur guten Nacht, D903
Although this song does not strictly belong to the canon of Schubert's Lieder, it is a good way to end a disc, and the composer also thought it a good way to conclude his opus 81. Like a good many of Schubert's songs for male voices, the music is simple, heartfelt, and very German in that it is easier to imagine a group of German men sitting around a table singing this song ('Ja, ja; was wir empfunden, was enger uns gebunden') about death and parting with tears pouring into their beer, than it is to imagine it in England. Nonetheless, this is music from 1827, and there is here something memorable and haunting which moves on a D major - B minor axis with noble and solemn tread. What sets it apart from countless other choral pieces in the same vein by other composers is a streak of Schubertian tenderness of a kind of which only he seems capable.

The three songs of Opus 81 were composed early in 1827 and rushed into print by May of the same year with a dedication to the poet from the publisher, Tobias Haslinger. This is some indication of the esteem in which Johann Friedrich Rochlitz was held. He was not only a well-known novelist, poet and playwright but a distinguished critic and founder and editor of the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung of Leipzig in which Schubert's music received more favourable reviews than elsewhere. Schubert met the poet in 1822, but we find a complete lack of interest from the composer in currying favour with so powerful an individual, and it is probable that the publisher Haslinger had to push Schubert into writing the Rochlitz set of Op 81. Rochlitz had championed the young Beethoven, and though his credentials as a talent scout are not in question, he was a bit of a musical know-all and busybody. He wrote to Schubert in 1827, asking him to set a poem and providing almost blow-by-blow instructions about how to do so. The composer declined this invitation and the coolness of his reply shows how little he cared for the useful (and traditionally Viennese) arts of flattery and political opportunism.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990

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