No 01: Gute Nacht
No 02: Die Nebensonnen
No 03: Mut
No 04: Die Post
No 05: Erstarrung
No 06: Wasserflut
No 07: Der Lindenbaum
No 08: Der Leiermann
No 09: Täuschung
No 10: Das Wirtshaus
No 11: Der stürmische Morgen
No 12: Im Dorfe
This is not the place to go too deeply into the history of the original Schubert cycle, D911, but it was composed in two bursts of creativity in 1827, to poems by the same Wilhelm Müller whose texts inform Die schöne Müllerin. There are those who argue that, by the time the second book of these songs was written, Schubert should have re-ordered them in line with the order of the original poems. David Owen Norris has also argued for re-ordering the Liszt transcriptions along similar lines. The cleverness of the modern compact disc player will allow the gentle listener to experiment at will, but here the transcriptions are given as Liszt published them, and they comprise numbers 1, 23, 22, 13, 4, 6, 5, 24, 19, 21, 18 and 17 of Schubert’s cycle. Liszt’s key structure is typically interesting: D minor, B flat major (Schubert has A major), G minor, E flat major, C minor, E minor (Schubert has F sharp minor), E major, A minor, A major, F major and D minor/D major/D minor. Like the Schwanengesang transcriptions, Liszt furnished alternative readings, but in this case only for five of the songs (see Volume 33).
Liszt begins his journey as does Schubert, with the uncannily imaginative walking song Gute Nacht (‘Goodnight’), eliminating the penultimate verse and treating the piece as a theme and variations. As so often, the poet’s theme is that of love rejected, and Liszt contributes with skilful word-painting in his choice of fragile textures to depict the Mondenschatten (‘shadow in the moonlight’) and the undisturbed dreams of the beloved being left behind. In Die Nebensonnen (‘Mock Suns’) Liszt takes Schubert’s song in one verse and extends it into a dramatic narrative that truly reflects the emotional compass of this prickly poem: the conceit of an optical illusion of three suns representing the poet’s failure in human relationships. Liszt treats Mut (‘Courage’) with appropriately festive decoration (and eliminates the reprise of the introduction at the coda), merrily facing with Müller and Schubert the world’s squalls.
In Die Post the poet has an involuntary leaping of the heart at the sound of the posthorn presaging mail from the town where he once had a true love, knowing that there will be no post for him. Liszt’s setting is straightforward, with one or two musical sighs added, and a splendid self-mocking clatter at the coda. Erstarrung (‘Numbness’) finds the poet in pain at his loss. Nature, like his heart, is frozen, but if it should melt, then so would his inner image of his love in his as-dead heart. Liszt deliberately begins tentatively, with the melody slightly displaced from the beat, but as the song’s anguish mounts he becomes forthright and impassioned. In Wasserflut (‘Floodwaters’) the poet speaks to the snow of the fate of his falling tears in a thaw: when the floodwaters pass his beloved’s house his tears will glow. Schubert sets this most introspectively, and Liszt follows him to the letter. Der Lindenbaum (‘The Linden Tree’) is the poet’s solace, his sheet-anchor in times good and bad, and finally a recollected place of peace. Liszt applies an astonishing armoury of delicate effects, especially with trills, to conjure both the rustling of the leaves and the tree’s innate tranquillity.
For those who know the song-cycle well, it comes as rather a surprise to encounter Der Leiermann (‘The Organ Grinder’) anywhere but at the end, where the poet’s disillusion becomes complete. But Liszt sees a good juxtaposition with the next song and treats this one as a simple introduction, moving without pause to the false attraction (so beautifully captured by both Schubert and Liszt) of Täuschung (‘Delusion’), in which the poet imagines briefly that a friendly light will lead him out of his cold wanderings into warmth and even into love. Das Wirtshaus (‘The Wayside Inn’) is really a graveyard, where the poet is ready to lie down, but his time is not come and he must move on. Liszt sustains the still slowness of Schubert’s masterpiece with a remarkable variety of textures, finally allowing himself tremolos and trills to underline the misery of rest denied.
To close, Liszt allows his robust transcription of Der stürmische Morgen (‘The Stormy Morning’—the poet sees the foul weather as a reflection of his heart and mind) to be played before and after Im Dorfe (‘In the Village’): the poet may not linger amongst the sleeping villagers, who are able to refresh themselves in dreams. Liszt’s transcription is, if it were possible, even more touching in its tranquillity than the original, and the wrench back to the reality of life’s storms is the solution to his own personal life’s journey.
from notes by Leslie Howard © 1995