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Fragment aus dem Aeschylus, D450b

First line:
So wird der Mann, der sonder Zwang gerecht ist
June 1816; first published in 1832 in volume 14 of the Nachlass
author of text

Awarded the title of 'Father of Tragedy' by the Greeks, Aeschylus was the first of the three great playwrights of Athens. Born in 525BC, he was a soldier at the battles of Marathon and Salamis; his play The Persians thus recounts recent history of which he was a part, rather than mythological legend. Aeschylus wrote ninety plays of which only seven have survived; we have already seen that Seven against Thebes cited the Amphiaraus legend. The Oresteia (458BC) is probably Aeschylus's greatest work and the only extant trilogy of plays from a time when dramatic works were often theme-connected in groups of three. The Oresteia recounts the events from the return of Agamemnon from Troy to the trial of Orestes. The first play, Agamemnon, tells of the old king's murder, Choephori or The Libation Bearers describes the vengeance of Orestes, and the last of the plays, The Eumenides or The Well Wishers (a euphemism for the Furies) describes Orestes' trial. After many centuries in obscurity, Aeschylus was rediscovered by the romantics: Napoleon was enthralled by his work, as was Victor Hugo. This song text is Mayrhofer's own translation from The Eumenides, and was made four years before Shelley established the influence of Aeschylus in the mainstream of English poetry with his epic poem Prometheus Bound in 1820.

Aeschylus effected certain important reforms in terms of staging his plays with enhanced realism, and it is recorded that the first entrance of the chorus of Furies (a group of twelve actors) in the Eumenides, struck terror into the public of the time. This song is a fragment of the chorus part (lines 540–555). Although Schubert casts the lines for solo voice, his introduction for this, the first of the Mayrhofer classical settings, aims at a statement of considerable grandeur. The song as a whole is as uncompromising as its sentiments, and sounds, from beginning to end, like a judgement delivered from on high. The recitative allows no time to smile upon the man who has lived his life well; instead we pursue the 'wicked criminal' through the storm of retribution. Some of Mayrhofer's own poems use similar water imagery for sailing either against the tide of life (Der Schiffer) or being borne along on a one-way watery path to death (Auf der Donau). The repeat of the words 'Er ruft, von keinem Ohr vernommen' prompts a passage reminiscent of the terrified boy in Erlkönig, with similar seventh and ninth clashes between the voice and a piano part pulsating with the same sort of harsh and merciless triplets. The gods seem to be laughing at the man's plight, and poet and composer take no little part in the grim glee. It is rare to find anything as vindictive as Schadenfreude in Schubert's songs, but all of the composer's natural compassion for life's losers is absent—the villain is 'unbeweint' in a manner worthy of the wrath of Achilles. The final cadence ('versinkt er') ends inconclusively with the voice on the third of the scale; this allows the piano to add two miniature postlude gasps: the punished man drowns only at the third attempt. What sort of public enemy did Mayrhofer have in mind for such retribution? By the sound of it, someone of high station who, 'nun nicht mehr stolz', will get his just deserts when brought low by divine justice—perhaps that modern oligarch, Mayrhofer's employer and (in his view) the nation's tormentor, Prince Clemens Metternich, and his kind?

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


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