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Ich schleiche bang und still herum, D787 No 2
Late 1822–1823; first published in 1889; ‘Romanze’ of Helene from Der häusliche Krieg; arranged by Fritz Spiegl
author of text

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Ich schleiche bang und still herum, D787 No 2
Such was the Imperial Censor's fear of plots against the Metternich regime, that the original title of Schubert's Singspiel, Die Verschworenen ('The Conspirators') had to be replaced by the more innocuous Der häusliche Krieg ('The Domestic War'). The librettist was the same Castelli who was editor of the almanac described elsewhere. The story is derived from the Lysistrata of Aristophanes, where wives who are anti-war withdraw their favours from their soldier husbands. The character of Helene (wife of Astolf) is one of four named 'conspirators' — two sopranos and two mezzos. Her husband is away at the Crusades and she is missing him. She sings this aria before being drawn into the plot to teach all the husbands a lesson. The original scoring of this aria (a gentle undulation of strings with a descending scale for the cello now and then) is dominated by a solo clarinet line of sinuous beauty. The musicological purist will have to excuse its inclusion in this series. The fact that this arrangement (by Fritz Spiegl) is sanctioned by neither composer nor tradition, is perhaps outweighed by the need to rescue a little known piece from obscurity, and to point out that Schubert's interest in the clarinet as an obbligato instrument with soprano pre-dated Der Hirt auf dem Felsen by at least five years. This voice/clarinet combination was to surface again a month later (May 1823) in the sublimely beautiful duet for Emma and Eginhard in the Finale to Act I of the grand opera Fierabras. There the musical coup de grâce is the melting change of A minor (the tenor's aria) to A major for the entrance of the soprano voice, as if in womanly benediction. A touch of the same transforming power of love is heard in Helene's aria when the voice part surprises and touches us with a modulation into the major on its second-last note. A wife such as this could never seriously punish her husband.

Ignaz Castelli was born in Vienna. As a young man he played in theatre orchestras in order to see the plays, and remained an enthusiast for every branch of the stage thereafter. He combined careers as a civil servant, editor of journals and playwright. He wrote over two hundred plays, mainly in dialect, most of them translations from French originals. One of his most successful plays was a collaboration with Alois Jeitteles, poet of Beethoven's cycle An die ferne Geliebte. In publishing the Der Verschworenen libretto Castelli had thrown down the gauntlet to his musical countrymen: 'the German composers' complaint is usually this — "Indeed we should gladly set operas to music if only you would supply us with the books! Here is one, gentlemen!".' Unfortunately, Schubert was not the only composer to take up the challenge; after having composed his Singspiel he discovered to his great disappointment that Georg Schneider, a composer in Berlin, had pre-empted him with a successful setting. By this time, undermined by the crisis of his illness, Schubert was truly desperate to have a success in the theatre. It was also at this time that Die schöne Müllerin was composed.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990

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