As we have seen in the notes to Die Mutter Erde
, the holiday that Schubert took in 1825 had a profound effect upon him. Denied the opportunity to visit such countries as Italy, and even Germany (his forays outside Austria consisted solely of two working summers on Count Esterhazy's Hungarian estate at Zseliz) Schubert responded fervently to the spectacular scenery of Upper Austria which was so much more dramatic than the gentle countryside surrounding Vienna. Die Allmacht
reflects this new discovery of scale and grandeur in nature, and if John Reed's thesis about the 'lost' Gmunden-Gastein symphony is correct, none other than the great C major Symphony was written at the same time. The similarities of tone and mood between that Symphony and this song are a strong point in favour of Reed's argument. The composer was feeling well and confident again after two years of illness, and his journey through the region with the singer Vogl was not only the first Lieder tour ever undertaken by two artists, but something of a royal progress. They stayed with, and performed for, notable music lovers on the way, all of whom fell under the Schubertian spell. One of the people they encountered was the poet of this song who made a formidable impression on the composer. For once Schubert's letters home were expansive and lyrically descriptive; it seemed he was fired by re-kindled energy. In a way Die Allmacht
occupies a similar place in Schubert's output to the Mörike setting Die Genesene an die Hoffnung
in Wolf's: both are paeans of praise to the Creator, or the muse—hymns of thanks for the creative power that each composer felt brimming up within himself. To voice this grand emotion of gratitude Schubert needed something that is not often required in his lIeder: a large and sumptuous voice—a voice to cry the message to the heavens. The piano's introduction, in key and turn of harmony, is reminiscent of the introductory pages of the String Quintet. The singer must then be able to ride the torrent with ease, the surprisingly wide-ranging vocal line soaring and burrowing into the mysteries of creation. The pulsating triplets running throughout the song roar and surge and rustle to illustrate the various manifestations of nature. The effect is monumental and dramatic but the threat of bombast is defused at various crucial quieter moments, particularly towards the end of the song where these same triplets pulsate as the heartbeats of mankind: we are thus made aware, in this moto perpetuo, of the rhythmical binding thread between man and nature, between all things great and small. The repetition of the first lines of the poem at the end of the song is a magnificent culmination, with the arresting progression from C major to G flat major and back in the space of a few fervent and dramatic bars. In this key, Die Allmacht
would have been beyond the amateur singers of Schubert's acquaintance; he must have had in his ears the heroic voices of some of the great opera artists he had heard, capable of taking on Gluck's Iphigenia and Beethoven's Leonora.
Ladislaus Pyrker was perhaps the highest ranking establishment figure that our composer ever knew, and if the memoirs of Beethoven's friend Schindler are to be trusted, the moment of Schubert's second meeting with Pyrker in Gastein in 1825 was 'one of the most inspiring of his life'. Pyrker was a cleric of Hungarian birth and Tyrolean ancestry. He was ordained in 1796, and appointed Patriach of Venice (then still in Austrian possession) in 1820. This was also the year that Schubert first made his acquaintance at the home of Matthäus von Collin. The Opus 4 songs, published in 1821 and including Der Wanderer and Wandrers Nachtlied I (Volume 1), were dedicated to Pyrker. Lofty status in the church would not have been enough to impress the composer; Pyrker must have been a charismatic person to judge by the enthusiasm with which Schubert immediately set two of his poems (the other is that ballad of nostalgia for the mountains, Das Heimweh). Pyrker's Pearls from Antiquity is an epic in rolling hexameters; the subsection of the poem from which Die Allmacht is taken is entitled (appropriately enough for the artist on this recording) Elisa. Despite his admiration for Pyrker, Schubert, realising that nothing should threaten the unified sweep of his song, chose to leave out an introductory strophe which in his earlier years of ballad writing would have been fashioned into a superb recitative. These deleted words establish, however, the dramatic (and definitely non-liturgical) context of the poem; in this respect Die Allmacht is a relative of the Scott setting Ave Maria, which has also been sung many times in church to an inauthentic organ accompaniment.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989