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Der entsühnte Orest, D699

First line:
Zu meinen Füssen brichst du dich
September 1820; first published in 1831 in volume 11 of the Nachlass
author of text

Orestes had been 'purified', or released from madness, by Apollo because he had successfully brought Artemis's statue back to Attica. His long trials are at last over, and Mayrhofer envisages the moment of his return to Argos, setting foot on shore as his homeland is bathed in a glow of spring beauty—an awakening from a long and terrible nightmare. This song was doubtless written for the retired Vogl to use as a pendant to Orest auf Tauris, a type of 'Before and After' of mythology, and a happy ending to a grisly tragedy. The musical style is more sumptuously experimental for the piano than Orest auf Tauris, the question of an opera for Vogl now shelved once and for all.

The key is a kingly C major, a purified tonality clear of accidental or blame. This is yet another variation on Schubert's theme of water music, and another indication of his Protean ability to give to water whatever shape he chooses. Orestes is elated and grateful, conscious that even the voices of nature whisper of a new chapter in his destiny, but aware that he owes this release to the mercy of the gods. The music strikes the right mixture of ambitious statement and hubris-avoiding calm. His confidence has been long warped by misfortune, but he is now ready to re-emerge as a mighty force; we even have sword and spear, some of Wotan's accessories (despite the wrong time, place and mythology to give the utterance a Wagnerian gravitas). With Verse 3 the A flat major tonality, the idea of a boat gliding on the water, and the sextuplet accompaniment figuration suggest a song from 1823—Auf dem Wasser zu singen D774. More interestingly, another song comes firmly to mind because of the tonality, sextuplets and mention of the beauties of spring—Frühlingsglaube D686, which also dates from September 1820. This makes John Reed's contention less convincing that the Witticzek-Spaun catalogue dating is not to be trusted, and that Der entsühnte Orest dates from 1817, alongside most of its mythological fellows. Orestes' heart is full to overflowing, and Mayrhofer, who proved himself capable of taking his own life, envisages Orestes, shriven at last, longing for his life to end on this note of release. His plea to Diana, whose approaching majesty we hear in the dotted rhythms of the final verse, is not granted, but it was at least a god-fearing request. After everything that he has suffered as a young man, the last seventy years of Orestes' life (he reputedly died at 90) were given up peacefully to ruling the kingdoms of Argos and Sparta where he succeeded to the throne of Menelaus. (Mayrhofer telescopes the chronology of this to enable Orestes to be King of Mycenae from the moment of his return.) Married to Hermione, daughter of that king (admittedly there were murders attached to this, but characters in mythology make mafiosi appear pacifists), Orestes established new settlements in Asia Minor to replace the cities destroyed during the Trojan War. He thus lifted a curse placed on Sparta in the time of Menelaus, and when he died he was accorded divine honours.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


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