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La pastorella al prato, D513

1817 (?); first published in 1891 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

After visiting the mountains we come down to earth in the meadow of the Italian shepherdess – another aspect of the pastoral tradition in music. Schubert’s second setting of this poem, an enchanting soprano aria in 6/8 which is included in Volume 9, is much better known. It is difficult to decide whether or not this quartet, as well as the later solo song, were late fruit of Schubert’s studies with Antonio Salieri. The young composer had been accustomed to setting the poetry of Metastasio for his numerous composition exercises. But of all Goldoni’s countless lyrics (this one is from Act II, Scene 16 of Il folosofo di campagna, 1754) this is the only which engaged Schubert’s attentions. It is the last section of Lena’s aria from that work (a libretto set by Galuppi, among others) and one may wonder how the composer came across such a text without a lead from Salieri. Further evidence of a Salieri connection is the fact that one of Schubert’s fellow students, Karl Freiherr von Doblhoff, also set the piece as a vocal quartet which was dedicated to their revered teacher. This was part of Sei Divertimenti campestri published in 1820. Schubert’s version remained unpublished in his lifetime and we can only conjecture that it is an 1817 work because of the second version, D528, which is dated January of that year. A further complication is that this work, marked Quartetto, shares a manuscript with the song fragment Nur wer die Liebe kennt.

On stylistic grounds alone there is certainly an argument for the piece to be dated earlier than 1817. Schubert’s music is far from the sophisticated norm of the majority of his works for the medium of male quartet, TTBB. The piano writing is in flowing semiquavers – this well enough conveys the ambling and relaxed nature of the text – but it rarely shows any independence from the vocal line, and there is no sign of the illustrative pianistic detail which enlivens and illuminates the later works in this vein. The smoothness of the bel canto writing is pleasing and euphonious, but nothing new: Schubert had achieved this sort of melodic ease with Italian texts as early as 1813. Rather more individual is the delightful vocal interplay, tennis lobs of musical counterpoint, between the voices (the first tenor and first bass) at ‘cantando in libertà’, and the moment of freedom enjoyed by the lead tenor, like a tiny cadenza, with the flourish of the final ‘libertà’. Otherwise everything is straightforward about this piece, including its unexceptional ABA form. The middle section (beginning ‘Se l’innocente amore gradisce il suo pastore’) contains an echo (or perhaps a prophecy, depending on the dates): the tiny little decorative figure of two demisemiquavers on ‘amore’ and ‘pastore’, the culmination of a line of repeated notes in the vocal line, is a link with Der Wanderer (at the line ‘Die Sonne dünkt mich’). The threefold repetition of ‘contenta ognor sarà’, a phrase which is initially decorated with dotted rhythms, and then with excursions to high Gs for the first tenor, passes muster as a convincing operatic cliché. The conventional modulation from dominant to tonic, soupily achieved by the sliding chromatic movement of the first bass, similarly relishes an Italianate commonplace which borders on knowing parody. It is the composer’s smile behind this music which reinforces the theory that this work does indeed date from 1817; there is little here of the adolescent earnestness which we find in the composition exercises of 1813.

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. 34
CDJ33034Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 2 on CDJ33034 [1'45] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 22 on CDS44201/40 CD17 [1'45] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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