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An die Freunde, D654
First line:
Im Wald, im Wald da grabt mich ein
March 1819; published c1842
author of text

'Schubert: The Complete Songs' (CDS44201/40)
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An die Freunde, D654
The text of Mozart's Abendempfindung, the gentlest of death songs, has certain similarities with the sentiments of this poem which would appear to be the typical broodings of any romantic poet were it not for the fact that we know with hindsight that the suicidal Mayrhofer meant every word. We might imagine that this preoccupation with death was a romantic preoccupation. At the time of the song's composition poet and composer were very close; they shared rooms and Schubert must have set the poem from its manuscript. As Capell says 'Schubert, to whom poor Mayrhofer was dear, must, knowing his melancholia unfeigned, have written the song with a certain ache'. This is one of the most undervalued Mayrhofer settings, probably because at first glance (and without a tempo indication—rare for Schubert) it looks like a funeral march. Some of the commentators have designated it so, but a lugubrious tempo can kill this song as surely as the poet kills himself, this time only in the interests of poetry. It is not, after all, a song about death; it describes the life after death that we continue to have in the memories of our friends. Those ominous left-hand quavers in the opening are no funeral march, but rather a metaphor for empty silence, for withered hopes (cf Trockne Blumen in Die schöne Müllerin) and for freezing winter cold (cf Auf dem Flusse in Winterreise). The modulation from A minor to A major is especially dear to Schubert; we hear it for example in the A minor String Quartet, in one of the loveliest duets in the opera Fierrabras, in the Sonata for arpeggione, and in the nostalgic song Die Götter Griechenlands. The ray of light at the key change in this song is no exception. A cantilena in A major suddenly flowers above the dry bass, a plangent oboe singing above pizzicato strings. Bit by bit an insinuating vocal line also grows from tendril to sturdier branch, a network of friendship taking root and aspiring to the heavens. There is a feeling of peroration, of triumph against all the odds, which again recalls Trockne Blumen. The downward pull of the poem's last lines is reflected in a weighty tonic pedal for most of the song's last page. This is a study in contrasts of tonality, texture and sentiment. The Peters edition publishes Diabelli's slightly different version in F minor, but we follow Schubert's autograph as published in Mandyczewski's complete edition.

from notes by Graham Johnson 1989

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