Although this song is undated, it is safe to assume that it was written during Schubert's studentship with Salieri, and that the text (Timante's aria from Act 3 Scene 5 of Metastasio's Demofoonte
) was chosen as an exercise by the master for his sixteen-year-old pupil. The old-style soprano clef had to be used, for Salieri was a stickler for the rules of the old order. The first (and unpublished until 1969) version of the piece consists of two attempts at constructing a vocal line: the first is totally unaccompanied, and the second has a tiny amount of piano writing sketched in. Perhaps Salieri recommended this as a safe means of constructing a singable tune, and it remained a habit with the composer until the end of his life; his very last song Die Taubenpost
was sketched in a like manner. A glance at the first (incomplete) version of Misero pargoletto
is enough to see the source of its inspiration: the key of G minor and the first two phrases, apoggiature and all, are lifted straight out of Pamina's aria 'Ach, ich fühl's'. Those notes must have so resounded in Schubert's ears from a performance of Die Zauberflöte
that he had recently attended that he was unable to distinguish the music in his own head from that of Mozart — either that, or the setting was intended as conscious homage. Was it Salieri who pointed out the unconscious plagiarism and insisted on the rewrite? If so his remarks (were they envious, disparaging, or simply against stealing another composer's tune?) would have been worth their weight in gold to the author of Amadeus
. Only the barest of Pamina's bones can be discerned in the vocal line of the second version, but the piano introduction (which serves also as an accompaniment to this vocal line) remains a charming, and perhaps defiant, variation on Mozart's immortal aria for the misera
Pamina. The form of the piece is simple enough — a da capo aria with a middle section that in dramatic tessitura and the orchestral effect of the piano part owes more to Gluck than Mozart. The manuscript has come into the possession of The British Museum as part of the Stefan Zweig collection.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990