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Himmelsfunken, D651

First line:
Der Odem Gottes weht!
February 1819; first published in April 1831 as No 8 of volume 10 of the Nachlass
author of text

Despite its simple strophic form, this remarkable little song in metaphysical mode is one of Schubert’s most potent single-page settings. It perhaps lacks the concision and clarity of the great Goethe miniatures from 1815 (Meeres Stille, Erster Verlust, Wandrers Nachtlied I) but the poem is hardly the product of a great classical mind. To match the ecstatic ramblings of Silbert, Schubert writes a song which is half hymn and half romantic effusion, clothed in a chromatic musical language where longing borders on eroticism. There could be nothing more suitable than this music—it is as if a Bach chorale is transfigured by the Romantic Zeitgeist—to illustrate Silbert’s claim that his whole being is overcome ‘In wundersüssem Ach’. The opening phrase mentions the breath of God, and we are wafted into a world where His presence floats in the musical ether much in the manner of the fragrance of the beloved in Dass sie hier gewesen. With different words, the music of Himmelsfunken could easily be a love song, swooning for an earthly rather than a heavenly love. Similarly, some of Schubert’s love music (Du bist die Ruh’ for example) would not be out of place if metaphysical poems were to be grafted in the place of the existing texts (heaven forbid!). It is in this border country between the sacred and the profane where this composer is most at home, for his natural inclination is to acknowledge the God-like in all things beautiful. Thus it is that Schubert never writes convincingly sexy songs unless the emotion behind the sexual desire is touched with the awe of worshipful devotion. It is this ambivalence which raises the first song of Suleika to the all-embracing masterpiece of the most mature and deep emotion that Brahms recognized it to be. At this time in particular it seems that Schubert (no doubt much encouraged by the readings and discussions of the Bildung circle and the earnest aspirations of friends like Senn, Bruchmann and Spaun to embrace the true, good and beautiful) attempted to reconcile distrust of religious hypocrisy and empty ceremonial with an innate yearning to comprehend the great issues of life, death and the Infinite.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 29 - Marjana Lipovšek
CDJ33029Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 31 - Christine Brewer
CDJ33031Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 4 on CDJ33031 [3'34] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 2 on CDJ33029 [3'16] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 15 on CDS44201/40 CD21 [3'16] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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