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Die Nacht

First line:
Die Nacht bricht an, mit leisen Lüften sinket
Not in the Deutsch catalogue; before 1821; first published by Universal Edition in 1990 in a version which arranges the guitar accompaniment for piano
author of text

This strophic song can claim to be the most recently discovered Schubert Lied; it has not yet been assigned a Deutsch number. Die Nacht was re-discovered as part of a forgotten collection of music which had been gathered together in two volumes by the composer’s schoolfriend Baron von Schlechta between 1840 and 1846. This comprised some 39 Schubert songs in partly unpublished versions for voice and guitar, not in the composer’s hand. In the absence of an original autograph, dating this song is made more difficult by the bland simplicity of the piano – or rather, guitar – writing; it is just possible that this setting of Karoline Pichler’s poem (from the novel Olivier oder Die Rache der Elfe) once existed in a piano-accompanied form, now lost. The lack of a fully developed accompaniment throws more attention on the vocal line which has many Schubertian fingerprints in terms of the rise and fall, as well as the persuasive flexibility, of the melody.

There is little about this strophic song that would rule out an early date (such as 1813 or 1814): the Italianate melody is typical of the music Schubert was writing during, and soon after, his training with Salieri. But it might be argued that the chain of modulations within the melody sounds too sophisticated for this apprentice period. The fact that the famous version of the song, Der Unglückliche D713 was composed only in 1821 is also a factor in postulating a date later than 1813-1816. But the two settings of Pichler’s poem could not be more different. Der Unglückliche is an elaborate song-cantata made up of various sections in different tempi – it could not be further from a strophic song in terms of its conception. And there are other instances when more than a decade separates two settings of the same text. An example of this is L’incanto degli occhi: the first version dates from 1817 at the latest (it is probably much earlier than this) and the second version was composed only in 1827. The whole question of a date remains tantalisingly open.

On first hearing one is reminded of the opening of the famous Walter Scott Ave Maria (Ellens dritter Gesang), but this is also something to do with the stately flow and shape of the accompaniment’s rolling mezzo staccato figurations. (This also serves to remind us how very Italian in style is that supposedly Scottish-inspired prayer; perhaps Schubert responded to intense Roman Catholicism with a Roman, or Italian, style.) Aiming at hypnotising repetition rather than individual detail, the composer allows the general flow of the cantilena to govern the song’s shape. Apart from appropriate moments of vocal melisama (airy triplets for ‘mit leisen Lüften sinket’, legato syncopation for ‘den müden Sterblichen’) he does not allow himself to be diverted into the illustrative, word-inspired, commentary which is usually the magical factor in his response to poetry in his own language. Indeed, the song is so plain and simple in its marriage of musical and verbal means that one might be tempted to doubt its authenticity; that is, if one did not know how hard it is to write a Schubertian pastiche even half as good as this.

Die Nacht is cast in four broad and identical musical strophes of thirty bars each. The eight strophes of Pichler’s original poem are thus paired off for musical purposes: the first, third, fifth and seventh strophes begin in the opening melody in G major, and the second, fourth, sixth and eighth strophes (the ‘B’ section) change to a more stormy mood in E minor. For this performance we perform six of the eight strophes. It is worth noting that D713 uses only six-and-a-half strophes of Pichler’s poem, finishing, in superbly dramatic fashion, in the middle of the seventh. In the version recorded here the composer respects the poem more perhaps, but is infinitely less musically adventurous.

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 22 on CDJ33033 [4'48] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 5 on CDS44201/40 CD24 [4'48] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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