Despite the large number of arias in his operas (a treasure trove of riches largely unexplored by all but the most ardent enthusiasts), Schubert chose to make his own piano-accompanied arrangements of them in only three instances. There are two substantial pieces (one for tenor, one for bass) from the opera Alfonso und Estrella
arranged in 1822, and the piano reduction for this aria was presumably made at the time of the Singspiel's composition in 1815. Der vierjährige Posten
(the libretto by the man of whose acquaintance the composer was rather proud, the poet Körner who had died a war hero in August 1813) was completed in eleven days in May 1815. This is a spectacular enough feat — the work has eight substantial numbers and a full score of 108 pages — without taking into account that Schubert was busy on songs (Hölty's An den Mond
among them — Volume 7) in these very same days. The plot is rather a silly one. The tenor hero is Duval who was put on sentry duty by a regiment which marches away without relieving its sentinels. After many days he gets tired of his post, descends to the nearest village, finds his comrades have gone, and falls in love with Kätchen. Four years later the regiment retums through the town. To avert the Charge of desertion, Duval pretends to have been on sentry duty all those four years. Things look dangerous for him for a little while at which point Kätchen utters her prayer. Because of its religious subject matter, and also because it is so perilously high in the original (we here perform it a tone lower than written, and it is still in a dizzily virtuosic tessitura), we are tempted to surmise that it was extracted from Der vierjährige Posten
especially for Therese Grob, the high soprano who sang at the composer's parish church of Liechtental, and with whom Schubert was desperately in love at the time. The piano reduction is a model of clarity and economy, qualities that arrangers of operatic vocal scores seldom achieve. In the original orchestration the opening 'Adagio con moto' is exquisitely scored for woodwinds only, but as the aria progresses the full weight of the orchestra is deployed behind the ardent heroine. Schubert the arranger of the piano version seems to remain solicitous for his sweetheart's voice; the orchestrated aria on the other hand has been composed for some imaginary steel-throated canary able to achieve both height and volume. It is like a young composer of today who, on the strength of operatic visits, writes music that only Edita Gruberova or Joan Sutherland can sing — if they were to feel so inclined, which is highly unlikely. When it came to singers who were triends, people he knew, the composer was infinitely more careful. Then, as now, composers of operas who write for an instrument of their fantasies rather than for actual existing voices, frailties and all, are doomed to the greatest disappointments. The more singers Schubert met and worked with, the more realistic his vocal demands became.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990