Verse 2: A rather conventional military interlude for the piano sets up a somewhat formal verse of singing, as if the minstrel's heart is not in this type of task.
Verse 3: The influence here is sheer bel canto, for what does a minstrel do but sing with voice or instrument? The courtliness and suavity of the substantial piano interlude is matched by a florid vocal line which owes much to the Italians— (cf 'Ich sing, wie der Vogel singt' in Der Sänger).
Verses 4-6: A section notable for the wrenching modulation which depicts the contortion of the king's brow. The tantrum of the musician at having failed in his duty is a rather less serious example of lèse-majesté than we will encounter in Der Zwerg but it is also less believable in word or music. The wind-down before the king's reply is skilfully managed however.
Verses 8-9: This is an exceptional page of music. Schubert manages to suggest age, wisdom, high rank, world-weariness, and at the end a quickening of fear, the composer's hand on the royal pulse. It is here that the kingly poise of utterance disintegrates; death stalks king and commoner alike. The first version changes clef for the king's speech and suggests a duet. Like Der Tod und das Mädchen however, the work is more effective for single voice. The poem owes much to Goethe's Der Sänger and Der König in Thule in particular, and to some of the Schiller ballads. The idea of a minstrel's relationship to his royal master must have struck a chord wwith musicians like Schubert, who though spared the nightmares of Mozart with noble patronage, was not in a position, as was Beethoven, to defy the hierarchical structures of rank and privilege. How many embittered and unappreciated musicians there must have been in Vienna who felt like breaking their metaphorical harps in fury. Franz von Bruchmann, another friend of Schubert's, provided the composer with a text (Der zürnende Barde) about a defiant old minstrel, and such poems honouring the practitioners of music were of course meant as compliments to Schubert himself. Then, as now, it was easier for artists to live a life of penury if they were convinced that they played something of a sacred role in society.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989
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