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Das grosse Halleluja, D442

First line:
Ehre sei dem Hocherhabnen, dem Ersten
June 1816; first published c1847 as part of volume 41 of the Nachlass
author of text

This is one of a number of Schubert works from 1816 which looked to the musical techniques of the past for inspiration. The music is written out on two rather than three staves. This was the standard practice with earlier composers of lieder (Haydn and Reichardt for example) where it was assumed that the vocal line simply followed the right hand of the accompaniment. (Those words reveal a rebellious accompanist’s slant; one could also say that the piano dutifully follows the vocal line.) As there was no separate third stave for the voice, the words of the song were printed between the two keyboard staves. For Das grosse Halleluja and its companion piece Schlachtgesang, we find this old-fashioned means of notation revived for the only two occasions in Schubert’s lieder. But here there is a further complication. Instead of a melodic line in single notes on the top stave, we find chords, mainly in three parts, but sometimes in two or four parts. These are easy enough to play on the piano, but it is not really clear if these chords are the composer’s shorthand notation of a part-song. The publisher Diabelli certainly thought so: when the work appeared nineteen years after Schubert’s death it was printed for three-part women’s chorus. On the other hand, Das grosse Halleluja appears in the solo-song series of the Gesamtausgabe, probably because the manuscript makes no mention of it being a choral work, and Mandyczewski followed the autograph scrupulously.

Too scrupulously perhaps. A single voice singing this song would make of it a weak affair; it also seems reasonable to suppose that such a subject as the ‘great Halleluja’ implies the use of a chorus. The existence of Schlachtgesang, another Klopstock setting from June 1816, and obviously choral, reinforces this notion. The music is marked ‘Feierlich’, and as so often in his settings of eighteenth-century poets, the composer summons the solemn musical ghosts of the past to suggest old music. The setting is firmly based on the portentous ‘walking basses’ of a composer like C P E Bach whose own lieder settings of Klopstock were famous and probably well-known to Schubert. (Not surprisingly, Schubert easily outdoes Bach fils in the broad sweep of the music, and in harmonic subtlety.) Mozart was also capable of writing in the ‘antique’ style when he wanted to depict ceremonial and age-old tradition. As we listen to Das grosse Halleluja, with its solemn melody sustained over a pacing bass line, we can hear Schubert’s admiration for the contrapuntal music of the two armed guards in the second act of Die Zauberflöte.

The Mozartean connection is another reason why in this recording we have opted – pace Diabelli – for a five-voice male, rather than female, chorus. The grandeur of the poem suggests a weightier sound than could be provided by women’s voices in this vocal range. Male voices sound an octave lower than written, and are thus heard in the same tessitura as the left-hand accompaniment. The right-hand chords in the piano sound an octave higher than the singers instead of simply doubling them at pitch. The musical texture is thus much richer than it might seem on the printed page. The close part-writing between tenors, baritones and bass (five singers in all) adds to the impression of an imposing wall of stentorian sound, thoroughly appropriate to the idea of a paean of God-fearing praise. The supporting bass line, ceaselessly inventive and always on the move, propels the music forward and is the secret of its vigour. If this line had been remotely singable (and it is not) it might have seemed that Schubert’s autograph was a short score for four-part chorus. Because matters are not as simple as that, care was taken to allocate our five available voices to two, three and occasionally four parts in the most effective way for the singers concerned.

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. 32
CDJ33032Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 14 on CDJ33032 [2'29] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 25 on CDS44201/40 CD14 [2'29] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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