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Die Gestirne, D444

First line:
Es tönet sein Lob Feld und Wald, Tal und Gebirg
June 1816; first published in April 1831 as No 2 of volume 10 of the Nachlass
author of text

We have already heard the most glorious and extravagant of the Schubert Klopstock settings (Dem Unendlichen), but here is the composer, less than a year later, tackling another setting of the same poet and seemingly content to give it a much more modest musical garb. The poem itself could easily have been treated in the grand manner; it has all the textual ingredients necessary for a blockbuster—roaring seas, resounding thanksgiving, whirling dance and spinning planets. This is intoxicating stuff, and Dem Unendlichen from 1815 is Schubert's enthusiastic response to this side of Klopstock. In 1816, however, the boldness and sheer exuberance of the previous year yield to something different: the music is far more intimate and displays greater economy of means. As the successes of 1815 are consolidated, there seems to be a conscious attempt to find the concision and lucidity apparent in the (admittedly less ambitious) lieder of the North German masters. In this respect Schubert achieves his objective handsomely.

At a different time the poem's opening might have been cast as a stirring recitative. Instead Schubert, intent on mastering the strophic form, launches into a melody which makes the greatest possible effect using the simplest possible means. Even the two-bar preamble, heard only once, is remarkably expressive. Pulsating right-hand triplets combine with a purposeful and strongly etched bass line. The oscillation between the tonic and the German sixth was to become extremely hackneyed in music of portentous mood, but this is an early use of the device and it seems fresh and original. Trumpet-like, the voice climbs an F major arpeggio on 'Es tönet sein Lob', a dotted quaver-semiquaver on the second beat emphasizing the vigour and determination with which the narrator is intent on praising God. This dotted figure for the voice is echoed in the accompaniment on the fourth beat of the bass line, a quasi-canonic imitation which adds a note of pomposo grandeur to the proceedings. The strength of the part-writing is a feature of the Schubert songs of this period: the vocal line meshes splendidly with the pianist's left hand which is energized here and there with rumbling trills and resonant octaves. The music passes restlessly through various tonalities (F minor, D flat major, A flat major) and it is interesting to see how cunningly Schubert handles Klopstock's rolling hexameters. As the strophe moves to its central point he constructs a vast musical arc which covers nearly three lines of poetry; this begins on F major (at 'es donnert das Meer') and only returns there, in root position, at the very end of the verse ('Danklied der Natur!'). In between we seem lost in space, one harmonic constellation opening after another before our ears. We reach the home straits with a sense of slightly breathless relief. For Schubert to have arrived in Fmajor any sooner, however, would have earthed this music in mid-flight.

Schubert only wrote out one verse of the song with repeat marks. The Gesamtausgabe prints the poem's fifteen verses, and the Peters Edition selects five of these (1, 3, 6, 10, 14) and prints the music as if the song were durchkomponiert. In this performance we select four verses from the Gesamtausgabe (1, 2, 10, 14) and make some tiny adjustments to the prosody of the vocal line to make the music fit the words. Schubert admittedly left this aspect of the song incomplete; he would have had to address this issue had the song been published in his lifetime. Die Gestirne is chiefly remarkable as an early study for the stentorian Die Allmacht of 1825. It seems to be the missing musical link between that song and Dem Unendlichen.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1998


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