The text is taken from Didone abbandonata
, a full length Metastasio opera libretto from 1724. This aria comes at the end of a scene where the Queen of Carthage, after a long dialogue with Aeneas, begs him to stay with her despite his decision to leave. The manuscript seems to have been vetted and amended by Salieri, although the memoirs of Anton Stadler state that Schubert was a pupil of the Italian master from 1812 to 1814, and that 'Salieri is said to have declared that there was nothing more he could teach him'. Perhaps Schubert had a special reason for a return visit to his old mentor, and John Reed suggests that he was perhaps angling for appointment at an opera house, and that this piece may have been conceived as a type of musicsal calling-card-cum-fishing-line. Schubert knew that his prospective employers, opera house officials biased in favour of Italian music, were not interested in his new discoveries in German music. By 1816 he had written many masterpieces already in his own language, but he would have continued to respect Salieri's credentials as a master of Italian prosody and style. What all the commentators have missed, however, is Schubert's salute to another of his great predecessors. The very word 'abbandonata' has strong resonances of another abandoned princess, and the words 'misera abbandonata' she uses to describe herself: Haydn's Arianna a Naxos
. For Schubert here was an example of another great German-speaking composer writing a piano-accompanied cantata in the Italian language a quarter of a century eartier. As is often the case with Schubert, the most powerful resonances and allusions between his work and that of other composers is to do with tonality. The Haydn piece, it is true, is much longer, subdivided into a number of arias and recitatives, but just as Didone abbandonata
, it begins with a stately stromentato recitative in E flat, and ends with passionate invective in the key of F minor. In this latter section particularly, it is difficult to believe that Schubert did not have Haydn's panting, gasping music in his head as a model. Rhythmic excitement is generated by very similar means, and though Dido's words are meant to cajole and plead with Aeneas in contrast to the curses thrown after the barbarous traitor Theseus, they end up sounding extremely angry in like vein. This is something to do with the imperious and daunting range of the Schubert's vocal line. The whole piece has a presumably intentional old-fashioned air about it — the opening trills in the piano part, the vocal cadenza, the middle section in the relative major leading back to the da capo. Haydn's Arianna a Naxos
has long been a favourite recital opener for mezzo-sopranos. Schubert's cantata has never achieved anything like the same popularity with sopranos, but, given the right type of singer, it cries out for more frequent performance.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990