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A splendid characteristic of Schubert’s was his interest and pleasure in all the successful creations of other people. He did not know what it meant to be envious and he by no means overrated himself … Although absolutely German in tendency, he by no means agreed with the abuse of Italian music, and especially of Rossini’s operas, which was usual at that time. The Barbiere di Sevilla he found delightful and he was enchanted by the third act of Otello; in the operas given at that time … Lablache’s singing captivated him. The latter took a great liking to Schubert, and once when the four-part song, Der Gondelfahrer, was sung at a party he liked it so much that he asked for it to be repeated and then sang the second bass part himself.
Lablache probably met Schubert at the home of Raphael Kiesewetter. These three songs (Schubert’s last in Italian) were certainly dedicated to Lablache, but it is also likely that they were written especially for him. It is also possible that he sang them some time before they appeared in print as Op 83, and that he played some part in the correction of the Italian accentuation before the work went to the printer. The songs were published simultaneously with a German text; this is still to be found in the Peters Edition where the songs are listed in Volume 6 under their German titles Die Macht der Augen, Der getäuschte Verräther, and Die Art ein Weib zu nehmen. The translator’s name is not known; Walter Dürr points out that it is unlikely to have been Schubert’s erstwhile collaborator Craigher de Jachelutta; Craigher was a native Italian speaker and would almost certainly have corrected the mistakes in Schubert’s Italian prosody before providing the German translation. In fact the corrections were made only after the translation was added.
Opus 83 as a whole is typical of the publications put out by Haslinger who was ever aware of musical politics and market forces. He must have found these pieces ideal for his purposes: the dedicatee was a celebrity, songs in the Italian language were all the rage, and the style of the music was accessible. At least one critic, G W Fink of the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, agreed. In an enthusiastic notice (30 January 1828) he refers to Schubert as ‘the generally lauded and favoured composer’ and that all three songs are ‘well suited to social entertainments’. He predicts that ‘Signor Luigi Lablache, to whom these three numbers are dedicated, is sure to make a furore with them’. The composer Heinrich Marschner, on the threshold of his own success as an opera composer, was less impressed. Writing in the Berlin Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung (19 March 1828) he criticised the songs for being neither fish nor fowl – not sufficiently colourful and vital enough to be truly Italian, not expressive enough to be real German Lieder. ‘The flow of his melodies is too intermittent, too heavy-handed; it is no glowing lava stream but only a somewhat cold, murmuring northern brooklet … Herr Schubert has thus not yet succeeded with these songs in bringing about an alliance, however desirable, between German and Italian music.’ Of course Schubert had no such grandiose aim, and the listener of today is able to delight in the mixture of styles that is the inevitable result of such a work. We can only agree with Capell: ‘Schubert is here working outside his natural style, but he does it uncommonly well’.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000
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