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Track(s) taken from CDJ33037

Schwanengesang, D957 Part 1

August 1828, first published by Haslinger in May 1829
author of text

John Mark Ainsley (tenor), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: March 1998
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: September 2000
Total duration: 30 minutes 52 seconds

Other recordings available for download

Robert Holl (bass-baritone), Roger Vignoles (piano)


'Ainsley interprets his songs with the tonal beauty, fine-grained phrasing and care for words that are the hallmarks of his appreciable art … all in all, a worthy, inspired conclusion to the Edition … faultless throughout' (Gramophone)

'A glorious conclusion to this magisterial edition … a magnificent project … one of the great achievements of recording history' (BBC Music Magazine)

'A thrilling finale. Few series of recordings so richly repay detailed study, and no disc from it more than this culminating issue' (The Guardian)

'This is an exquisite envoi to one of the great enterprises of recording history. Thank you, Graham Johnson, thank you, Hyperion and thank you, Franz Schubert' (International Record Review)

'This is an awesome achievement, a must for all Schubertians' (The Sunday Times)

'Riches galore – subtle, simple, dramatic, profound, and often all at once' (Classic FM Magazine)

'A consistent joy' (Hi-Fi News)

'Clearly established as one of the finest achievements in the history of recording' (Sydney Morning Herald)

'One of the monuments of recording history' (Wall Street Journal)

'One of the most important and handsome undertakings in the century-old history of recorded music' (Spectator)

'It’s execution remains as glorious as its conception, and sets a standard that will never, in all likelihood, be surpassed' (Capital Times)

'John Mark Ainsley sings the Rellstab songs with finesse, sensitive phrasing and great expression. In all, a magnificent achievement. Hats off to Schubert – and to Graham Johnson' (The Singer)

'Flawlessly performed' (Daily Express)
The commentary on the song Auf dem Strom discusses how deep was Schubert’s link with Beethoven in the last year of his life. It is curious, but understandable, that he seems to have been more engaged with thoughts of this composer and his music after Beethoven’s death than before it: the remark ascribed to him – ‘Who can do anything after Beethoven?’ – dates from much earlier, and in 1828 Schubert was setting about answering his own question. He was concerned to exorcise the ghost of his great contemporary, the better to move on and occupy his natural place as Vienna’s leading composer, and homage seemed the best way to pay his dues once and for all, even if that homage was accomplished with, as Walter Dürr says, ‘typically Schubertian reserve’. If it is true that he received Rellstab’s poems from Beethoven Nachlass via Anton Schindler, we have never been told how many poems were passed to him, and why he chose to set the one he did. The suitability of Auf dem Strom for a concert given on the first anniversary of Beethoven’s death has already been discussed. But when he came to plan another group of songs on these Rellstab poems, what thoughts guided his choice? He had already composed two highly integrated cycles. Deutsch suggested that he probably wanted to avoid composing another work with a connecting narrative because of a hitherto supportive critic’s unfavourable response to Winterreise (‘true song should unfold itself in single flowers’); whatever Franz Stoepel of Munich wrote, it would in any case have been impossible to cap Winterreise. In 1818 he had composed something of a riposte to Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, the song-cantata Einsamkeit to the words of Mayrhofer. Like the Beethoven cycle this consisted of six linked sections, a garland of songs by a single poet on a single theme. What Schubert had not yet done, however, was to marry the best of both worlds: to write a cycle of separate free-standing songs united not by a story but by a theme flexible enough to be give unity in diversity. Such a cycle could use the idea of the distant beloved in various guises as a way of paying tribute to Beethoven.

Over every song in Schwanengesang hovers the presence of a different distant beloved. In Liebesbotschaft and In der Ferne the lover sends messages to her by water and on the breeze; in Kriegers Ahnung the soldier bids his distant spouse or lover farewell (he is about to die in battle), and in Ständchen the serenader is separated from the object of his affection and never permitted to scale the balcony; Frühlingssehnsucht links longing for the advent of spring with a hopeless desire for the presence of the loved one; Aufenthalt is awash with the tears born of loveless sorrow, and Abschied, however seemingly merry, is a song of parting which bids love farewell before a journey. (Even the darkest symphonic work must have its scherzo.) The other possible Rellstab scherzo, Lebensmut is the only song which could not, in any conceivable way, be made to fit into such an anthology. Was it abandoned for this reason?

Whether by chance or planning this ‘ferne Geliebte’ theme continues into the Heine cycle: Der Atlas is someone who has gambled on love and lost; Ihr Bild, Die Stadt and Der Doppelgänger similarly describe the loss of love and measure the terrible distance between estranged lovers – in the last case a visit to her house occasions a premonition of death. Am Meer describes memories of a terrible parting, and even Das Fischermädchen is about love on the rebound, a search for a fleeting substitute for the love that has been lost back home. The ‘theme’ may even be extended into the song that was placed at the end of the cycle by the publisher Haslinger: the owner of the carrier pigeon in Die Taubenpost sends love out in terms of longing but receives nothing back. Throughout this sequence ‘she’ is absent, unable to respond even if able to listen, as in Ständchen; she is separated by distance, the impenetrable wall of a house, convention, even death perhaps, but she is not there. In four songs the lover is referred to in the third person; in one (Kriegers Ahnung) she is referred to as ‘she’, and is addressed directly at the end of the song; in six songs the singer addresses the lover as ‘du’, but only in two, Abschied and Das Fischermädchen, can we sense the possibility of a colloquy. If there were a single title which might cover the theme of these songs it might be An die ferne Geliebte. And if it were true that Schubert was still in love with Karoline Esterhazy, and felt (correctly) that he would never be able to aspire to her hand, the shared experience of unattainable love would have been another link he could claim with his great predecessor via the title of a song-cycle.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000

Other albums featuring this work

Schubert: Schwanengesang
Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
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