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Abend, D645

First line:
Wie ist es denn, dass trüb und schwer
Fragment; January (?) 1819; vocal line first published by Dietrich Berke in Schubert-Kongress 1978; and then in 1996 in the Neue Schubert Ausgabe
realization of accompaniment
author of text

This fragment shares the autograph of the wonderful Friedrich von Schlegel setting, Die Gebüsche. This links the song – Schubert’s only attempt at setting the poetry of Ludwig Tieck – with that period in the composer’s life when he was interested in the poetry of the early Romantic poets, above all Schlegel and Novalis. Volume 27 of the Schubert Edition is given over to the settings of the Schlegel brothers, and the majority of the Novalis settings appear in Volume 29 which is dedicated to the works of 1819/20. As at various other times of his life, Schubert was searching for something new in his art, and this transcendental poetry seemed to be the key to a greater depth of musical expression; this is bound up with the composer’s own search for a philosophy as he attempted to make sense of life without the help of conventional religion. This longing to scale the lofty peaks of Romanticism, and the ambition to invent hitherto unheard-of musical and poetic combinations, was to be extinguished by Schubert’s illness. By 1823, with a sense of his time running out, the composer would pull in his horns and make himself concentrate on tilling a humbler patch. The grand and optimistic vistas of Romantic Weltanschauung were no longer appropriate, but the seeming banalities of the miller-boy’s experiences were to give rise to a different musical transcendence.

Tieck had attempted to establish himself in Vienna in 1808 (Schlegel did so with success) but Schubert never knew him. The poet would nevertheless have been a familiar name to anyone who was an avid reader, and some years later the works of Tieck were to feature in the ‘Lesegesellschaft’, the reading circle associated with Franz von Schober, where important works of literature were read aloud and discussed. Schubert found the poem for Abend in the Musenalmanach für das Jahr 1802 edited by August von Schlegel and Tieck. Also in this small-format volume was Friedrich von Schlegel’s cycle Abendröte from which Schubert was to set eleven songs over an extended period. At this stage of his life, having written so many single songs, it is natural that he should have been concerned to find a scheme to intensify their power in performance – like the poets who published their work in sets. He was later to publish disparate songs grouped in opus numbers where the juxtapositions were significant. But it is clear that long before Die schöne Müllerin, Schubert longed to get his act together – that is, to give the lied form a greater significance by grouping single items into something grander than the sum of their separate parts. There is a recently published theory (by Morten Solvik) that he attempted something like this as early as 1815 with his Kosegarten songs, and there is even an earlier example in the untypical and problematic Don Gayseros songs of 1814. Certainly, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte – still officially the first song-cycle – must have been a further spur to these ambitions.

There is obviously something cyclical about the Schlegel Abendröte settings (whether or not Schubert, at some stage, intended this to be a cycle has been much discussed, particularly by Richard Kramer) and even after Die schöne Müllerin (and before Winterreise) there is a sense of a hidden cycle in the Schulze settings (recorded in Volume 18). So it comes as no surprise that Dietrich Berke avers that the song Abend – or rather the sketch for the song – was a preliminary attempt on Schubert’s part to test the waters for a Tieck cycle. In the 1802 almanac, Abend is printed as the third of a group of poems entitled Der Besuch – ‘The Visit’. The other titles are Morgen, Mittag, and finally Nacht. (The idea of a day in the life of a relationship was to be set to music some sixty years later by Fauré in his Poème d’un jour.) The tense expectancy of the first two poems is counterbalanced by the desperate disappointment of Abend which, in turn, is replaced by Nacht where the lover finds his consolation in the starlit heavens as he feels at one with the cosmos. It is worth noting that in common with Schubert’s great song-cycles, the protagonist of this story does not get the girl, but finds a way out of his depression by moving closer into nature’s embrace.

Berke believes that Schubert deliberately started with the most difficult of the poems in order to see whether the idea of making a Tieck cycle was viable. Clearly it was not. And so this remains one of those Schubertian ideas that never saw the light of day. The composer made a serious attempt to compose this song – the fragment is more ‘complete’ than many. It consists of 119 bars of the vocal line (the sketch was abandoned at the point when fourteen lines of the poem remained). In addition, fragments of the piano part are also provided, although only in terms of snatches of right-hand melody (there is no indication of harmony). Only the first five words of the poem (written out as ‘Was ist es denn, dß’) were penned into the score, but these, together with the title, were enough to identify the poem and its author.

If only we could know what sort of accompaniment the composer had already planned when he wrote down this song in skeleton form. The difficult task of reconstructing one for this work was undertaken by the late Reinhard Van Hoorickx, whose work on the fragments has featured often on these discs. He admitted to difficulties with Abend however, and this song was unexpectedly rescued for this series by Mark Brown, the producer of this record and many others in the Hyperion Schubert Edition, who provided a new version of his own. Of course, the impossible challenge of writing music in Schubert’s style has defeated every pasticheur, as well as people addressing themselves to the tasks of the fragments. Definitive completions are awaited from a composer with more than a touch of Schubertian genius. In the meantime, unpretentious simplicity wins the day over complex, and inevitably inappropriate, sophistication. The purpose of this completion, as with all the others, is to enable Schubert-lovers to hear the original Schubert – in this case the entire vocal line, with a hint of what it might have sounded like in finished form.

The opening section is in G minor and in 3/4. There is no tempo indication. That the piano introduction is an exact pre-echo of the vocal line is not due to a lack of inspiration on the part of the arranger – this is one of the few pieces of piano-writing which was provided by Schubert himself. At ‘Kaum gekommen’ (the poem’s fourth line) the music changes into the tonic major, and shifts into 2/4. This section lasts sixteen bars before a return to 3/4, this time in C major (‘Aus den Lichtern in die Nacht’). It is only at ‘O als ich dich noch nicht gesehn’ (Schubert cuts a strophe of Tieck’s poem along the way) that the music once again changes key signatures (to E flat major, this time with a 3/8 time signature) which holds sway for the rest of the fragment, despite a number of rather remote chromatic excursions along the way. Some twenty extra bars of vocal line have been added to this arrangement to bring the poet to the end of his sentence: this means eight words after ‘Und die Empfindung’ (‘dass ich alles misse, Bleibt bei mir zurücke’) where the manuscript breaks off.

In many other fragments we wistfully imagine what Schubert would have made of the piece had he added one of his extraordinary accompaniments where the elaboration of a single pianistic motif makes sense of everything else. But the vocal line here is so busy and so complex, and so often changing direction, that it is difficult to think of the piano being able to give anything other than relatively simple support. It seems that Schubert found it tricky to find a convincing musical prosody for Tieck’s poetry. There is a sense here of being in the workshop and watching the composer try first one thing, and then another, in order to sidle up to Tieck and invest his work with a musical voice. By the end of the fragment we sense that he has lost interest in the struggle to combine the poet’s art with his own.

Ludwig Tieck was born in Berlin where he studied philosophy and theology before moving to Jena where he encountered Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis, as well as Fichte and Schelling. He knew both Schiller and Goethe. He became quickly renowned for his skills as a novelist, fabulist and writer of comedies, sometimes writing under the allegorical name of Peter Leberecht. He was one of the few great German writers of the period to visit England (in 1817) where he studied Shakespeare; both he and his daughter Dorothea were deeply involved in the preparation (with August von Schlegel) of German translations of the complete works of Shakespeare. Tieck’s most important official position was as Dramaturg at the Dresden Hoftheater. In this position he showed an interest in mounting a production of Schubert’s opera Alfonso und Estrella, but this came to nothing. That Tieck was aware of Schubert is attested by an article he wrote for the Dresdner Theaterzeitung in February 1828 where the composer’s name is bracketed with that of Conradin Kreutzer as an important Viennese composer. The small number of Tieck songs in the lieder repertory show that Schubert was not the only composer who found his writing almost too rich in word-music to encourage musical setting. The best-known Tieck settings, the fifteen songs of Brahms’s mighty cycle Die schöne Magelone, occur within a much longer prose narrative, a work where the poems are fashioned in deliberately simple ballad style to suggest medieval minstrelsy. These ‘Peter Leberecht’ poems seem more susceptible to musical setting than the works which Schubert encountered in 1819.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2000


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