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I said to him "Look Schubert, you must set this to music for me" … He looked at the sheet of paper for a white and finally said "There, it is finished now, I've got it already. " And on/y three days later he really did bring it to me, finished, set for mezzo-soprano (that is for my sister Pepi [Josefine Fröhlich]) and four men's voices. At this I said to him "No, Schubert, I can't use it like this, it's meant to be a tribute from Fräulein Gosmar s women friends only. You must write me the chorus for women's voices. "I remember quite clearly saying this to him; he was sitting over there in the right-hand window recess of the ante-room. And soon afterwards he brought it to me, set for Pepi's voice and women's chorus …"
How would he dare not? On the llth August 1827 three carriages were used to transport the chorus of ladies from Vienna to Döbling, and a piano was secretly moved into the front garden so that the celebrant could be surprised. The Fröhlich sisters were more surprised (they would be wouldn't they?) that Schubert did not turn up to this first performance. He would also have escaped the second if they had not sent someone to track him down to his favourite coffee house and haul him to the concert. In Schubertian annals this behaviour is always put down to forgetfulness; time and again, and always taken at his word, the composer used this excuse, often the secret weapon of the seemingly vague, to protect himself from company and events which were unnecessary to him and his work. It is perhaps the one negative trait of the Viennese character, unjustly renowned for dissembling perhaps, but with a réputation for guile nevertheless, that we can find in his make-up. I, for one, and in the light of this story, do not blame him a bit.
We must nevertheless thank the importunacy of the Fröhlich sisters. Both of the song's versions are beautiful; we perform the men's chorus setting because it is for these forces that the idea first occurred to him. The idea of a lot of women prowling around at night to sing to the 'Freundin' would have seemed faintly ridiculous to a composer steeped in the gallant tradition of the serenade. The music itself is in the famous evening and lullaby key of F major. The idea of tentative tip-toe dalliance, with the lightest and most discreet of knocks at the door, is superbly conveyed by the gentle, but pointed, moto perpetuo accompaniment. The words 'steigend, schwellend, hebend', are made for music and modulation, and Schubert makes full use of them. The masterful quasi-fugal passage (somehow perfect for the solemn searchings of a short-sighted wise man with swinging lantern—an academic schooled in the rigours of old-fashioned music?) from the beginning of the third verse, is both a bow to the the Men in Armour in Die Zauberflöte, and an indication that counterpoint was interesting Schubert more and more; he was soon to want to take lessons in it. Friendship and love ('Freundschaft, Liebe') cut a swathe through the pedantry, and the purest melody returns. An extraordinary touch of humour is the composer's built-in smile in acknowledging the length of the piece. Just when the serenaded sweetheart is promised rest, and we think the proceedings are to be wound up, we are wamed of one more word (noch ein Wort) and the music sets off again. The exit is charmingly managed in quasi-operatic style; indeed this work has something in common with the haunting nocturnal chorus that opens Schubert's opera Alfonso und Estrella.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990
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