This composer, one of Schubert’s more famous contemporaries, had an early Viennese dimension to his multi-faceted career; when Schubert was still a teenager, Spohr was Music Director of the Theater an der Wien (1813–1815), during which time he was in contact with Beethoven who was an enduring inspiration. Because Spohr’s name remained well known in Vienna after his departure, Schubert was accustomed to hearing his fellow composer’s music in various concerts (sometimes his work shared the billing with Spohr’s) and he might well have met the older composer on one of his later visits to Vienna. We know that the subject of Schubert’s operatic hopes came up between Kreutzer and Spohr in correspondence in 1822, and we know that long after Schubert’s death Spohr conducted a performance of the ‘Great’ C major symphony.
Mignons Lied „Kennst du das Land?“ is the first of Sechs Deutsche Lieder, Op 37, composed in 1815. Goethe, in one of his more censorious moods, criticized this setting as being a ‘complete misunderstanding’ because it was not strophic. In fact, this is a cleverly modified strophic song that attempts to give the impression of being strophic without actually being so—a sleight of hand well known to Schubert. The most unusual thing about this setting, and also the most inventive, is the constantly changing metre as 3/2 shifts to 3/4 and then to 2/4—an attempt to render Mignon’s lines in natural speech rhythms.
comparative Schubert listening:
Mignons Gesang „Kennst du das Land?“ D321. 23 October 1815
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006