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Lebenstraum 'Gesang in c', D1a

First line:
Ich sass an einer Tempelhalle
fragment first published without the Baumberg underlay in 1969 in the Neue Schubert Ausgabe, Kassel; arranged and completed by Reinhard van Hoorickx
author of text

The honour of being D1, the first work by Schubert listed in the Deutsch catalogue, goes to the Fantasie in G for piano duet. As we leaf through this tome (the second edition of which, D2 of 1978, is much weightier than the first of 1951) we find the first vocal work with piano: Hagars Klage D5, which dates from March 1811. Those who are lucky enough to own Eusebius Mandyczewski’s spacious Lieder Gesamtausgabe, an edition which aimed to be chronological, can see this biblical ballad printed right at the beginning of the ten-volume set. But the time has now come to revise this chronology. Since the publication of D2, performing editions of two splendidly resourceful settings of a poem by Gabriele von Baumberg have emerged, albeit still only available in privately printed editions. These are certainly Schubert’s first surviving songs, and they may well pre-date anything else we possess from the hand of the composer.

A considerable amount of music has been discovered since Mandyczewski’s edition (1897), and there are substantial differences between the two editions of the Deutsch catalogue. These include countless adjustments of opinion regarding such matters as the dating of manuscripts and the interpretation of problematic fragments. The ‘Gesang in c’ (Song in C minor) is just such a case: it should now surely be re-classified as the first setting of Baumberg’s Lebenstraum and the case for it be listed as such in a third edition of Deutsch is a strong one.

This is a fragment of 394 bars with a vocal line and fully worked-out accompaniment. There are, however, no words on the manuscript, and this has been an obvious stumbling-block to its inclusion in the canon. (There is a similar mystery, still to be solved, in the much shorter wordless song sketch from May 1817, D555). Various criteria show that the manuscript of D1A dates from before 1810, so it is probably the work of Schubert at the age of thirteen, or even younger. That he had some sort of poetic text in front of him was obvious, but until relatively recently there was no clue as to what it was. The mystery only began to unravel with the relatively recent discovery of the origin of the text for D39 which was long known simply as Ich sass an einer Tempelhalle. This manuscript dates from about 1810 and it is also a fragment – this time of 231 bars. The composer wrote out the text for the first six bars of the vocal line (beginning with ‘Ich sass an einer Tempelhalle’); but the poem itself remained unidentified at the time of the publication of the first Deutsch catalogue (where it is erroneously ascribed to 1813, thus being allocated the late number of D39). Over twenty years ago Dr Heinz Sichrovsky of Vienna ascertained that in composing this song Schubert had set the first 29 lines of Lebenstraum (a poem of 221 lines printed over thirteen pages!) by Gabriele von Baumberg. This discovery, duly acknowledged in D2, was not made in time for the first printing of the song fragment (1969) in the Neue Schubert Ausgabe.

The piecing together of D39 had its own problems which we will examine in the commentary on that song. The text for D1A remained problematic; because there was no text attached to it most scholars were prepared to leave it as an unsalvageable fragment – something perhaps to be hummed, or sung to ‘la’ at the most fanatical of Schubert seminars. For some time scholars have suspected that D1A was an earlier attempt at setting the same text as D39. But it took the indefatigable Reinhard Van Hoorickx, encouraged by John Reed, to grapple with the Baumberg poem and come up with a reasonable performing edition. It was Reed who sent Hoorickx a suggested underlay for the first seventeen bars of the piece. At first Hoorickx busied himself with making the text fit D39 (remember, Schubert had written in the words only under the first twelve bars); after this he turned his attentions to the ‘Gesang in c’, D1A.

This is a much longer fragment: Schubert sets double the number of Baumberg’s lines (58 instead of 29 for D39). In both songs, where words are lacking, the problem is in correctly guessing which of the poet’s words (or even whole phrases) Schubert had repeated, omitted or changed altogether. That the young composer was cavalier with texts at this stage of his life is proved by how much he altered such texts as Schücking’s Hagars Klage: when it suited him he freely adapted the words which were copied from the printed edition of the Zumsteeg setting. There is no reason to suppose that in the case of both versions of the Baumberg poem he had not been similarly ‘inventive’. Unfortunately, in this case he carried these alterations in his head and did not bother to write them under the vocal line. For this reason Hoorickx had to make small adjustments to both words and musical stresses in order to prepare workable performing editions. But the interesting point is that these adjustments were necessary for both songs, the second of which is undeniably a setting of Baumberg’s poem.

Although there was a dissenting voice from Professor Walther Dürr of the Neue Schubert Ausgabe (who was not convinced by the Reed/Hoorickx thesis), it seems to me that this was an entirely feasible, indeed inspired, idea. The more I look at the ‘Gesang in c’, the more convinced I am that it is indeed a setting of Lebenstraum. As the listener follows the words and music together, the musical illustration of the verbal imagery not only seems appropriate, it shows the young Schubert already in possession many of the qualities that were to carry him to immortality. In the many instances where words and music appear extremely well matched, the young composer’s intense and felicitous response to dramatic situations is notable, as well as his taste for unusual modulation. Less developed here is his talent for sheer melody; it seems that this was to be made to blossom through his introduction to Italian music and his tuition with Antonio Salieri.

This work boasts one of the longest of the introductions to the early songs, and it seems that the composer had the equivalent of an orchestral overture in mind. We are reminded yet again that the origins of the Schubertian Lied are operatic in inspiration, rather than purely lyrical. The manuscript shares the closing section of the composer’s piano-duet arrangement of the Gluck’s overture to Iphigenie in Aulis. Only a part of this arrangement survives, but an examination of the beginning of that same Gluck overture reveals the use of ominous falling fourths which Reed has identified as a Schubertian ‘thumbprint’; it is this falling motif which introduces this song also based on a mythologically-inspired theme, and which attempts to paint the grandeur and silence of the sacred grove in which the poet finds herself. Nothing in these 33 introductory adagio bars quite blossoms into memorable melody, but they are rich in atmosphere; the most unusual effect is the use of quasi-orchestral textures – long singing dotted minims in the right hand and caressing quavers placed unusually high for left hand accompanying figurations. It is notable that the descending fourths ‘theme’ is something of a leitmotiv for the entire work: there are no less than seven subsequent appearances in the vocal line and accompaniment of the snaking musical shape announced at the very beginning.

1. No sooner has the voice come in than there is a beautiful, if also strange and awkward, modulation (on ‘Tempelhalle’): an F natural slides up to an F sharp as B flat 7 changes to D major. This somehow suggests a changed state, the frisson of entering a sacred grove with the heightened tension brought about by sacred magic and mortal fear. Three bars later (at ‘umrauscht vom nahen Wasserfalle’) we hear running semiquavers in the accompaniment – this is Schubert’s first water music. (This passage was one of the first to convince me of the Reed theory concerning this song’s text.) Other nice touches are the entirely appropriate downward inflexion of the vocal line at ‘im sanften Abendschein’ (more recitative than melody) and the sudden oppressive texture in contrary motion between voice and piano at ‘kein Lüftchen wehte’. The phrase ‘die Sonn’ im Scheiden vergüldete’, which rises only so that it may fall on the portentous interval of the diminished seventh, has something of the sunset grandeur which we will encounter ten years later (cf. the passage ‘Umhüllt mein Scheiden gold’ne Pracht, ich scheide, herrlich’) in the Mayrhofer masterpiece Freiwilliges Versinken.

2. Andante. The crotchet movement quickens, and once again one notices how thoroughly Schubert has learned his lesson from Gluck who builds musical grandeur with repetitive figuration and blocks of sound, as if carved from marble. The gap of two bars between the words ‘sass ich lange’ and the clinching ‘lange da’ is both bold and admirably descriptive. The piano writing rumbles and trundles in the background, now crotchets, and then increasingly strident quavers. This is entirely appropriate for the appearance of the throne of the gods. The apposition of the rising setting of ‘Zukunft’ (future) and the falling ‘Vergangenheit’ (past) is the mark of a young composer who understands, as if by second nature, the inner significance of words and their musical analogues. The second time we hear ‘Vergangenheit’ it slides down to the murkiest of bass textures. The awe felt for the gods is expressed in the heavenward octave leap on the second ‘Götter’, and the sense of panic, skilfully engendered by the rhythm, as the stillness of the grove is invaded by the divine presence. Death (‘Tod’) is set as a sad and solitary minim, and it can be no coincidence that the phrase ‘in des Tales dunkeln Tiefen’ descends to the depths of the stave.

3. Adagio. This verse is a strange one from the poet’s point of view. She is offered the drink of oblivion, suicidal to the ambitious artist. From the point of view of an eighteenth-century woman, the abandonment of her wishes to be a great writer and desisting from her struggle for greatness within a male environment, would offer her a drugged and stress-free ride to oblivion. It is fascinating to see how beguiling Schubert makes this music. The image of ‘eine düstere Gestalt’ does not bring forth music that is in the least bit ominous. (How different this is in the second setting!). Indeed, he makes us hear in this music how easy it is to give up and yield to the voices offering you the ‘mohnbekränzten Schale’ – ‘the poppy-garlanded chalice’. The music here is in a suave and euphonious A flat major, gently undulating thirds pricked out in the sweetest register of the treble. I was forcibly reminded of the insinuatingly gentle E major music of Des Baches Wiegenlied from Die schöne Müllerin where the brook promises relief and comfort after having lured the miller-boy to its depths. It is as if the composer imagines the poet temporarily tempted by these blandishments; and then she suddenly comes to her senses on the sudden diminished chord which stabs out ‘mir’ on ‘aus Lethes Quelle mir’. ‘Vergessenheit!’, the strophe’s last word, is another portentous downward plunge.

4. Allegro. Schubert makes much of the word ‘Betroffen’ (dazed). The falling fourths of the opening overture make a brief reappearance. The poet wants to ask the spirit a question, and this is marvellously suggested by the way the vocal line sticks, as if transfixed, on one pitch, and words are separated into syllables over three bars, as if in a stutter of fright. When the question is at last uttered (it comes out unaccompanied, phrased in the falling fourths of Gluckian doom: ‘Was dieser Trank mir nützen soll?’) the spirit hurries away, and with it the piano writing, suddenly in fleet semiquavers. The words ‘Ich sah’s mit stillem, stillem Groll’ are all set on repeated Ds despite the harmonic changes in the piano – a perfect depiction of tenacity and steadfastness when faced by a stormy crisis.

5. Allegro Moderato. It was this music in G major, identical to the melody and accompaniment that concludes the D39 fragment, that alerted John Reed to the fact that this wordless conundrum may have been an earlier setting of the Baumberg poem. Suddenly the spirit of Mozart enters the music, perhaps because he is everybody’s idea of a musical genius disguised as a young boy. And what better than Mozart’s example to guide the young Schubert towards the groves of Apollo and the prospect of immortality? Although this is something like a pleasing little melody, this passage is rather banal. The importance of the gift on offer (‘ein schöner Dichterkranz’) seems little suited to this cherubic frolic.

The recitative (‘Er sprach’s, und ging mir schnell voran’) announces the little genie’s flight and the piano follows suit with an ornate and flurried progress across two octaves of keyboard.

6. This section is given over to recitative of one kind or another, ranging from arioso passages that are almost melodic, to statuesque Gluckian passages: at‘hell schimmernd sah ich’s schon in ferner Schattenhülle’ the voice makes an impressive, and descriptively appropriate, descent to a low E. The invitation to take up Apollo’s lyre is made in stentorian terms and in the bass clef, something completely at odds with the boyish and playful characterisation (and much higher tessitura) of the Amor-like figure earlier introduced. It is as if Schubert has temporarily forgotten who is speaking to whom. By now it is clear that the young composer has lost the thread, but he struggles manfully on, principally because he owes it to himself to continue with the poem up to the point where it has the greatest significance for him and his own position as someone who also intends to dedicate his life to Apollo. (The situation summons memories of Swinburne’s ‘Yea, is not even Apollo, with hair and harpstring of gold / A bitter God to follow, a beautiful God to behold?’). The genie continues his lecture, and he does so in Sarastro vein: the music suddenly takes on the tone of high moral seriousness of Die Zauberflöte. The little C minor aria beginning with a long piano introduction, and the words ‘Mit zärtlich rührenden Akkorden’, is gentle and effective in its way; indeed it shows more of a developed sense for sheer melody than anything else in the piece, but it must have suddenly seemed clear to Schubert that something had gone badly awry with his plan to follow Baumberg on the rest of her mind-journeys (later in the poem she is carried aloft on Pegasus, no less – a type of eighteenth-century Love went a-riding).

7. The last of the verses set (incomplete) is framed in terms of a gently reflective C major aria marked ‘Adagio’. In these words the poet, not yet endowed with Apollo’s entire strength, realises she is at first only able to sing small songs. Perhaps Schubert was reproached by this and felt that he was running before he could walk; there was nothing at all small about this, his very first song. It is a pity that only three bars before he breaks off, and for the first time in this work, he betrays his inexperience with vocal tessitura by assigning an entirely gratuitous (and unreasonable) high A to a bass voice that is otherwise required to plumb the depths. Reinhard van Hoorickx added three bars of piano postlude to bring the piece to a close.

This version of Lebenstraum is an entirely worthy candidate to be rehabilitated and elevated to the important position of being Schubert’s first song. Although it is not a great work in itself, it is already a work of genius written by a great composer-to-be. This level of response to words and verbal imagery is already a fully-formed gift from the gods. It is startling enough that a boy of twelve could have been moved by a poem like this, and was able to grasp its central message: ‘I will be an artist, no matter what any one else says or thinks, because it is my right and my destiny’. There is a strong feeling of ‘otherness’ throughout this – of Schubert (like Gabriele von Baumberg) feeling that he was not like other people, and knowing that it is his right to belong to an elite group as a specially selected servant of Apollo. Von Baumberg’s lines are very much the stuff of high-flown fantasy, but they are also unmistakably a cri de coeur. She was destined to experience the very oblivion that she most feared, and part of the tragedy of her life was that she was a woman of spirit attempting to fight the male-dominated world on its own terms. Her words identify a female artist’s plight in a hostile world as surely as Gretchen’s plight typifies another dilemma of womanhood. Here we see the young composer, at twelve or thirteen, already identifying with the female psyche; it is little wonder that at seventeen he was able to compose Gretchen am Spinnrade.

We do not know whether Schubert had already encountered parental hostility at the prospect of his being a professional musician (this would certainly come later), but we do know that the texts of all his other early songs were chosen for their relevance to his own life and for their ability to verbalise his deeper feelings. If his ability to express himself in eloquent terms was confined to music (particularly at this vulnerable age), the alliance between word and tone was here nothing less than a survival mechanism. More importantly, this song of dedication and commitment seems to set the pattern of a lifetime: songs were about things that were of crucial importance – personally, emotionally, philosophically; they were not merely entertaining ditties, but concerned with the most serious issues; even the lighthearted ones were composed with a seriousness and dedication that was a matter of musical life and death for Schubert. That the young musician should have felt at one with feminist outpourings of this kind tells us a great deal about his feelings of childhood isolation, and that he was already experiencing certain defensive feelings against injustice. In this way he showed himself ready to throw down the gauntlet for battle. It also shows us that even at this pre-pubescent age (Schubert’s voice broke in 1812) he felt himself to be specially blessed. Clearly, he could already feel within himself the greatness of his destiny.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1999


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 33
CDJ33033Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 1 on CDJ33033 [12'46] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
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