The incidental music to Rosamunde
has achieved an immortality denied to Schubert's other stage music of 1823, but it was far from successful at the time. The story goes that it was Josef Kupelwieser, the librettist of Fierabras
, and the brother of Schubert's painter friend Leopold, who had the idea of teaming up the composer and the poetess Wilhelmine (known as Helmina) von Chézy — all in order to give a benefit concert in the Theater an der Wien for a mediocre actress with whom he was in love. The bad luck that dogged almost all of Schubert's theatrical enterprises weis once again in evidence: it was a box-office and critical disaster. All the blame for this must fall on the play itself, which has been lost; the music accounted for only a fraction of the work's length. The composer first brought in the overture to his grand opera Alfonso und Estrella
to serve as opening music for Rosamunde
, but later the overture of his Singspiel, Die Zauberharfe
was substituted. Apart from this, there are nine numbers including the delicious Entr'acte in B flat (No 5), the opening melody of which was later to serve as the theme for variations of the third of the Four Impromptus D935. Almost as famous is the Romanze
for Axa which was the only part of the work to be published in the composer's lifetime. Various judicious differences between dynamics in the piano part and the full score (clarinets, horns and lower strings predominate, with little for the violins) and the skill and economy of the reduction, suggest the composer's own arranging hand. It is the simplest of strophic songs, and as in the preceding Romanze
it explores the haunting ambivalence between F minor and major. There is a touch of naivety in the gently rocking 6/8 rhythm which suggests a bergerette. That this is a conscious pastoral evocation is borne out by the plot. Kreissle von Hellborn, Schubert's first biographer, extracted the gist of the play from the author's son. It seems that Princess Rosamunde has been brought up ('from some fancy of her father's') as a shepherdess, and in the middle of the stressful and protracted business of the regaining of her throne, she escapes back to the hut of Axa, 'her old protectress', who sings this song. The soft, glinting colours of moonlight on the heath are perfectly caught, and a touch of old-fashioned modality suggests a timeless refuge from the dangers of court life. As one would expect from a composer who numbered Die schöne Müllerin
among his recent achievements, the greatness of the piece is in its flawless melody, seemingly simple but utteriy inimitable.
Helmine von Chezy is perhaps best known as the librettist of Weber's opera Euryanthe, the production of which in October 1823 brought her to Vienna from Paris (her second husband, de Chézy, was French), and thus into Schubert's ken. It is well known that Schubert did not like Euryanthe, and told Weber so to his face (only when asked by him), saying that he much preferred Der Freischütz. This transparent honesty cost him dear. Weber's enthusiasm for Schubert's work suddenly dried up, and offers of preferment for his works at the opera house in Dresden were no longer forthcoming. Deutsch also believed it likely that at some point Weber warned Schubert against getting involved artistically with Madame von Chézy. Both her grandmother and mother had been recognised poets, and her life and travels throughout Europe all betoken rather a fruitless quest to live up to her vision of herseif as a great writer. She numbered Adalbert von Chamisso (poet of Schumann's Frauenliebe und -leben) among her lovers. Schubert's friend Bauernfeld described her as 'extremely good-natured, somewhat ridiculous; cleanliness not her cardinal virtue'.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990