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Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, D360

First line:
Dioskuren, Zwillingssterne
published in November 1826 as Op 65 No 1
author of text

The sons of Zeus, Castor and Polydeuces (Pollux is the Latin version of the name) were long known as the protectors of seamen; the electrical phenomenon now known as St Elmo's fire was taken by the ancients to be their appearance during storms at sea. Legend has it that Castor (a mortal) was killed in a battle; his immortal twin Polydeuces was so devoted to him that he asked Zeus to be permitted to die to remain near his brother. Zeus allowed them to spend alternate days in Heaven and Hades together, and later legend identified them with the constellation of Gemini, the Twins. Mayrhofer's attraction to elevated love and friendship between men, and its heavenly reward, speaks for itself.

Analysis can scarcely explain why this modified strophic song touches all who hear it; much of its perennial appeal lies in its melody, the power of which is a Schubertian miracle, so perilously near does it lie to a foursquare hymnbook commonplace. Like that other famous hymn Litanei it seems a distillation of the most elevated religious feeling, and it seems only natural that the faiths of Christian and pagan should be considered in the same breath in Schubert's work. This 'Schiffer' is not a modern revolutionary like the boatman of another Mayrhofer song—Der Schiffer D536; neither is he the rustic voluptuary of the Schlegel song of the same name, D694. He is a genuine gods-fearing seafarer, such as might have served Odysseus, and the man's calling is acknowledged by the two spread chords which open the work like the ripple of water in the wake of a plied oar. Throughout the song built on a generous and resonant bass line, there is a feeling of contact with the currents and depths of the sea, but, at the end of the second verse especially, the navigator's eyes and voice are turned heavenward with awe, and the vocal line is somehow bathed in starlit radiance. The key is A flat, which Schubert often uses for evocations of the wonders of god-in-nature. That the gods are kind and merciful is apparent from the beautiful softening of harmony on 'eure Milde'—the simple expedient of a seventh chord, but who but Schubert knows how to place an everyday harmonic standby as tellingly as this? The piano part of the first two lines of the middle verse doubles the vocal line, a simple but perfect way to reflect the meaning of 'doppelt mutig.' The third verse, a repeat of the first as far as the vocal line is concerned, allows the boatman to resume his work, and finish his prayer as he rows; the work is hard, the voyage long and perilous, the progress of the rowed boat slow and arduous—all these things are felt in the depth and grandeur, the tidal tug, of the piano's left hand. The promise of an offering to the Dioscuri at the end of a voyage, if the boatman reaches home, is as heartfelt and pious a promise as ever man made to his maker. The hazardous homebound journey of Odysseus again comes to mind.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 14 - Thomas Hampson
The Sea
CDA66165Archive Service
Schubert: An introduction to The Hyperion Schubert Edition
HYP200Super-budget price sampler — Deleted


Track 7 on CDA66165 [3'17] Archive Service
Track 12 on CDJ33014 [2'50]
Track 4 on CDS44201/40 CD16 [2'50] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price)
Track 5 on HYP200 [2'50] Super-budget price sampler — Deleted

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