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Track(s) taken from CDJ33033

Pensa, che questo istante, D76

September 1813; first published by J P Gotthard in 1871 as No 5 of 5 Canti
author of text

Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Graham Johnson (piano)
Recording details: December 1999
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Release date: September 1999
Total duration: 1 minutes 33 seconds


'Intriguing views of a young genius' (Classic CD)
After various fragments and completions, it is good to note that the next two Metastasio settings are complete compositions by Schubert, including the accompaniments. This is surely a sign that his teacher felt that he had studied part-writing long enough, and that he was now ready to embark on the composition of solo songs. (This despite the fact that Schubert had been doing this at home and on his own initiative for quite some time.) The text is taken from the poet’s Alcide al bivio (‘Hercules at the Crossroads’) and is sung by the character of Fronimo, tutor of the eponymous hero, the young Hercules, to whom the aria is addressed.

This piece is mentioned in the memoirs of Schubert’s schoolfriend Anton Stadler who at one time owned the autograph. We are seldom absolutely certain whether the pieces of this period were related to the young composer’s studies with Salieri, but Stadler particularly remembered that this song was a ‘Hausaufgabe’ – a piece of homework for the Italian master. It is, as far as it goes, a very effective piece of music. It has the remarkable virtue of built-in, and inevitable, continuity: each phrase organically grows out of what has gone before, and rolls on to the next; nowhere does the music seem to have run its course until it reaches the final bars. And there is something about the dotted rhythm of the accompaniment which encapsulates the heroic posturing of Italian opera. In 1813 this strutting rhythm, taut and dramatic, underneath a sinuous bel canto cantilena was probably not yet the commonplace it was to become; but the mood and manner of this music was to pervade the world of Italian opera for a century, and the innocent ear, when confronted with this piece, would have a hard time guessing its provenance. It might pass for Rossini, even early Verdi, particularly as the vocal line is supported by a bass line of such strength and independence, and it is so idiomatically conceived for the bass voice.

In this song we hear the ground work which would enable Schubert to write so magnificently, and in a seemingly effortless Italian style, for the great bass Luigi Lablache in 1827. It is perhaps less obvious that without the experience of being required to write music of this kind, Schubert would never have produced something like the Ständchen from Schwanengesang from 1828. A German Lied of this calibre is no less great because of its Italian spiritual origin, and in Pensa, che questo instante we can detect the skeleton, the young bones scarcely formed, beneath that sumptuous hybrid. Such marrying of styles is such a Schubertian speciality that we scarcely notice when it happens. But just as the Mozartian style encompasses Italy, there is a good deal that has always been thought of as purely Schubertian (and thus Viennese) which in fact owes its existence to the warmer south.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999

Other albums featuring this work

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