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Der Abend, D108

First line:
Purpur malt die Tannenhügel
July 1814; first published in 1894 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

This song is perhaps less important, in that it is less original, than the other early Matthisson settings. It shows, nevertheless, the continuing influence on the young composer of a Salieri-instilled care for bel canto. This amounts to a respect for the voice and its possibilities. In contrast, it is the lack of vocal understanding which makes itself so keenly felt in the Lieder of Beethoven, for example – however glorious some of them are as music. This was the phase of Schubert’s life when he was learning how to appeal not only to the listeners and the musicologists of the future, but to his future acolytes, the singers. The key of D minor, and the way the opening phrase pivots around A and B flat in the middle of the stave, reminds us that the miracle of the vocal line of Gretchen am Spinnrade (in the same key, and opening in the same tessitura) could not have been created without a few trial runs.

The prelude is extremely simple: three D minor chords making the tune D-F-D pricked out by the pianist’s right hand. The time signature, as in a number of the other Matthisson settings, is a flowing 6/8. The melody, a gentle dance built upon the dotted rhythms of a sicilienne is appealing without being instantly memorable. The song is in binary form: the first section is entirely strophic, and we hear the same fourteen bars three times in all. The first verse remains the best from the point of view of prosody, but the others show a certain amount of forward-thinking on the composer’s part. For example, in bar 8 the word ‘lieblich’ sounds lovely as a descending arpeggio, but in the second verse ‘unter’ is also an appropriate underlay for this same falling phrase. On the other hand ‘durch’ in the third strophe is less successful.

The poem’s fourth strophe, addressed to the cricket (‘Grillchen’), is set as a recitative and marked as such in the score. It will be much later in Schubert’s output that we will find another address to the same insect – this time a cricket on the hearth in Der Einsame of 1825. Perhaps not surprisingly, Schubert fails to match the eloquence of Geisternähe in this perfectly expressive, but comparatively ordinary, passage. The last verse is set to music that is identical to that for the first three. The postlude is identical with the prelude. We are beginning to discover something important about Schubert who is so capable of astonishing us with magic and unusual effects. There is another side of him which craves the more ordinary, everyday qualities of impeccable craftsmanship – this is something we hear again and again between 1814 and 1816 in his bid to take his place in the honourable succession of great composers of strophic song. When he is in this mood, Schubert’s achievements can seem, on one level, rather unspectacular; on another level they are eloquent testimony to his serious interest in releasing the power of the poem through music which he attempts to create with the minimum of fuss. This aim of cutting back to be more expressive was hard work, but it bore its best fruit in the great song cycles.

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 21 on CDJ33033 [3'02] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 13 on CDS44201/40 CD3 [3'02] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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