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Wie Ulfru fischt, D525

First line:
Die Angel zucht, die Rute bebt
composer
January 1817; published in 1823 as Op 21 No 3
author of text

 
Auf der Donau, Der Schiffer and Wie Ulfru fischt were published together in June 1823 as Opus 21. By this time Schubert's days of setting Mayrhofer's verses were almost over; indeed there seems to have been a rift between poet and composer at the end of 1820 and it could be that the dedication to Mayrhofer of this set of songs from their shared past may have been Schubert's peace offering. The composer had need of his friends in that summer of 1823; he had fallen prey to syphilis and later spent a period in hospital. As he looked through his old songs, selecting a group for publication, the intimations of mortality in Auf der Donau, written six years earlier, must have seemed stark prophecy. Indeed Schubert himself penned a Mayrhofian poem in May 1823 which includes the lines:

Take my life, my flesh and blood,
Plunge it all in Lethe's flood ...

The three songs Schubert chose for the Opus 21 set were united not only by their poet and vocal range but also by water. The set was advertised as Drei Fischerlieder von Meyrhofer (sic) fur den Bass. The ponderings of Ulfru foreshadow Auden's poem Fish in the Unruffled Lakes in which mankind turns an envious look 'on each beast and bird that moves'. Because no man can feel safe on land Mayrhofer's fisherman longs for the underwater security of the fish. His music with its little shrugs and sighs and wry smiles is a very Viennese combination of charm and pessimism, and it is the only one of the Mayrhofer songs which is written for a working class rustic. Ulfru has more of a definite character than his unnamed colleagues in Fischerlied and Fischerweise; he is neither a hero nor very good at his job, but he is a survivor who has the precious gift of self-awareness, a Shakespearean clown who philosophises in a merry minor key. Much more prized by singers is the Byronic Der Schiffer which expresses Schubert's musical confidence in 1817, but the musings of Wie Ulfru fischt reflected the bitter-sweet paradox of Schubert's own view of the world in that devastating summer of 1823.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988

Recordings

Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 2 – Stephen Varcoe
CDJ33002

Details

Track 12 on CDJ33002 [2'34]
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD17 [2'34] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)

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