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Die Befreier Europas in Paris, D104

First line:
Sie sind in Paris!
May 1814; first published in 1895 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

There are only two Schubert works which directly show the composer’s engagement with political events in the world, and this little ditty is one of them. (The other is Auf den Sieg der Deutschen – ‘On the victory of the German Armies’ – D81, written in the autumn of 1813 for voice with string trio accompaniment.) The words, which appeared anonymously, were taken from the Viennese newspaper Der Sammler. Since the appearance of Volume 7 of the Neue Schubert Ausgabe in 1968 (which still lists the author as unknown) the text has been ascribed to one Johann Christian Mikan, a Czech botanist and zoologist who occasionally published verses. There is nothing distinguished here in terms of literature, but the poem captures the relief of most contemporary Europeans that the Napoleonic nightmare is over. The Allied armies (the Austrians under Franz I, the Russians, as well as the Prussians) had entered Paris on 15 April, and Napoleon, forced to abdicate, had been exiled to Elba. As in all the best horror stories, however, the fiend makes a return, just when everyone imagines that all the danger is over. Napoleon was to escape from Elba and threaten Europe’s safety one more time before his ultimate defeat at Waterloo in June 1815. Perhaps Mikan was playing safe in having his jubilant little poem published anonymously. One never knew when Napoleon was going to rear his head again.

Schubert casts his song in popular style for baritone and piano. The pomposo fanfares and decorations of the piano part are suited to high and mighty matters of state, and the military dotted rhythms underpinning the parade of regiments from the Allied powers are similarly hackneyed. The repeats of the words ‘sie sind in Paris’ in a forte dynamic, followed by quiet echoes of the same phrase in the accompaniment, mirror the narrator’s amazement. He cannot get over the news; to be singing of the occupation of Paris surpasses all the dreams of the alliance, and the exotic sound of the name of the French capital emphasises his incredulity at this military achievement.

We would put this down as the work of an hour at most if there had not been three versions of this song written out on the same folded sheet of music paper. This rather simple little project seems to have given the composer a great deal of trouble, and he seems not to have been satisfied by any of the results. John Reed claims that the eight-bar postlude is Schubert’s dance of joy over Napoleon’s downfall. The only trouble with this thesis is the pastoral nature of this music with its piano markings, and the heartfelt syncopations which seem to tug at the heartstrings. No, the triumphalism in this music seems confined to the main body of the song. Everyone was sick and tired of war in Europe; most people had lost friends or family (Schubert’s admired Theodor Körner had died in battle) and everyone was thirsty for peace. ‘Nun ist uns der Friede gewiss’ says Mikan; if peace is certain now (and of course we now know, with historical hindsight, that this was not the case), the world wishes to return to the securities of the old order. It is a longing for these, translated into musical terms, which seems to have inspired these eight bars of postlude. Just as Schubert detects the sadness in happiness, and vice versa, he is unexpectedly able to turn a jingoistic song into a little work of art with a longing for more civilised values as its concluding musical image.

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 20 on CDJ33033 [2'32] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 10 on CDS44201/40 CD3 [2'32] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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