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Lied eines Kriegers, D822

First line:
Des stolzen Männerlebens schönste Zeichen
first published in 1842 as part of volume 35 of the Nachlass, and then again in 1847 as part of volume 41 of the Nachlass
author of text

We are not certain why Schubert composed this little song for chorus and bass, but it must have been connected to the celebrations surrounding New Year’s Eve, 1824. If he had found it possible to compose Gebet (the preceding track) in a single day, this must have been the work of an hour. On first reading, the poem seems a rather undistinguished variant of Byron’s So we’ll go not more a roving—old soldiers hanging up their arms in times of peace, and regretting that their best exploits are over. But their mention of everlasting peace could also imply that this is a song of dead soldiers, closer to Hardy’s ghosts in Channel Firing than to Byron’s retired libertines. If this is the case, the only musical clue is that in Schubert’s rumbustious setting the male chorus is made to sing (in unison) in the sombre minor key.

Otherwise the tonality is an unambiguous A major. The opening left-hand octaves somehow recall the flourishes of Die Zauberflöte, and they also have a fortuitous similarity to the introduction of Un voce poco fa from Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera that Schubert almost certainly knew. But this is no song to remind one of Rosina’s feminine teasing; on the contrary, all seems designed for the ultra-masculine sing-song. It is very likely that the poem was written by someone within the Schubert circle, and in the absence of Auld lang syne was meant to cater for that rather lachrymose mood of nostalgia (exacerbated by drink) which overtakes the passing of one year into the next.

We should not dwell too long on this piece, apart from saying that the incessant dotted rhythms in the solo section are part of Schubert’s musical vocabulary for warriors; this is no doubt because professional fighters spend a lot of their time of horseback, and it is the equestrian life which occasions these jolts and judders. (In comparison, the boy’s father in Erlkönig has a remarkably smooth, and faster, ride in triplets). There are warlike passages in the quartet Gebet which employ the rhythmic vocabulary of Lied eines Kriegers, but this little party piece also looks to the future: it seems to be a study for passages in the Walter Scott settings of 1825, particularly Normanns Gesang (which is a moto perpetuo based on these militarised dotted rhythms) and the stomping of horses’ hooves as Ellen attempts to sing the ‘Krieger’ to rest in Ellens erster Gesang. Schubert, born and brought up at a time of military unrest, had something of a taste for soldiers’ music throughout his life—one thinks of such songs as Körner’s Gebet während der Schlacht from 1815, and Kriegers Ahnung from 1828, not to mention the Marches Militaires for piano duet. The military also features in a number of his operas: again, these range from the beginning of his career (Die vierjährige Posten of 1815 is only one of several early operas to feature knights and soldiers) to Fierrabras of 1821/22, and Der Graf von Gleichen from the end of the composer’s life.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 35
CDJ33035Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 13 on CDJ33035 [3'06] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 8 on CDS44201/40 CD29 [3'06] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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