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Die Liebe hat gelogen, D751

First line:
Die Liebe hat gelogen
By 17 April 1822; published in August 1823 as Op 23 No 1
author of text

This ranks as one of Schubert’s single-page masterpieces, in the same extraordinary aphoristic class as Wandrers Nachtlied and Erstes Verlust. The pace and metre are those of Death and the Maiden—a dactylic rhythm which, in Schubert’s motivic language, underlines the harsh and irreversible sentence of Fate. To lose one’s love is to die a little, and in this song we sense that the loss of love is as inevitable as death itself, a terrible shock and yet somehow expected as part of the sufferer’s life-sentence. In the beginning we sense an aristocratic and frozen dignity, the vehemence of the feelings concealed under a façade of iron-willed control—the principal dynamic is piano, and not until the end of the middle section is there an outburst where the emotional catastrophe is matched by a sustained forte dynamic. Until the middle section this is music of stiff upper lip and iron will.

The original tonality is C minor. The poet and musicologist Schubart described this as the key of unhappy love, and we have only to think of another song of slighted love in C minor, Mozart’s Als Luise die Briefe, to see Schubart’s point. In Die Liebe hat gelogen the mood is of the highest drama, and yet everything is reined-in by the implacable dactyls. The two bars of introduction announce the gravity of the situation, and there is a surprising shift to a forte chord (the first inversion of D flat major, the flattened supertonic) on the third beat. This stab of pain, the twisting of a harmonic knife, subsides, and another bar of chords, muted and heavy like a dead march, return us to the dominant from whence the singer launches his plaint. The words are intense and bitter, the articulation of them remote and noble. Only in the height of the tessitura do we detect an inward wail, the sound of someone trapped in an emotional situation from which there is no escape. At ‘Betrogen, ach, betrogen’ there is a sudden shift into C major for the first ‘Betrogen’, and, if this were not astonishing enough, to A major for the second. Only a composer of Schubert’s genius and empathy would have played this unexpected card. The change sounds majestic and pomposo, as if a king is trumpeting the betrayal in a proclamation to the heavens, but there is a subtext to this grandeur. Here is the major key of self-laceration, of ‘yes, I thought so! I expected it to happen—it always does’. This is a triumphantly masochistic assertion that life remains as bleak as ever, and that one has been hurt again because, deep-down, one knows it is a deserved punishment. After this sustained passage, high in the stave, the descent of the vocal line at ‘alles mich umher!’ seems to describe the falling-in of the poet’s world, and the crumpling of a proud spirit.

The second verse is more personal. It is as if we have been led into an inner chamber of the poet’s heart where, following the public announcement of the rift, he is now able to show the private side of his feelings. This extraordinary music is prophetic of Winterreise, above all the song Einsamkeit in that cycle. The first two lines of the verse are repeated in a heart-wrenching sequence, as if no sooner than one spate of tears has been wiped away, another flood begins. This passage is full of heartfelt passing notes, appoggiature which lean distractedly on ‘fliessen’, ‘Tropfen’ and ‘Wange’; at the repeat of the words, the turning of the harmonic screws—from C minor up to C sharp minor—is exceptionally powerful. The mezzo staccato syncopations in the right hand illustrate the dropping tears (as in Gefrorne Tränen in Winterreise), and in the next line (‘Lass ab, mein Herz, zu klopfen’) these same quavers are pressed into service to depict the knocking heartbeats of distress and desperation. It is here that the music reaches fortissimo, and this is what Capell means when he writes ‘The singer may, if his voice is properly controlled, allow himself an almost operatic vehemence of expression’.

It was an inspiration on Schubert’s part to repeat the first verse of this eight-lined poem. A return to the opening music shows a recovery of self-control. We have glimpsed the inner torment of the poet; indeed there has been an astonishing outburst of feeling at ‘Du armes Herz, lass ab’, but here we return to the gravity and pride of a figure who is nobly doomed, like a character from Greek tragedy. The music at first glance may seem almost exactly the same, but it is modified in certain subtle ways. There is a flattening of the harmony and a discord at ‘Sorge lastet schwer’, and this leads to a more muted setting of ‘Betrogen, ach, betrogen’ where the bright surprise of the major key first time around is exchanged for a dominant-seventh chord which seems more regretful, more unresolved, and at sea. The depth of feeling of the closing bars is reinforced by an eloquent bass line in the piano which contains a shudder of apprehension: ‘What next? What is there to live for?’ The closing bar, by way of postlude, ends in the major key, and piano. This tiny song has traversed a number of emotions ranging from bitter anger to hysterical weeping. We now find noble resignation as the door closes on what we sense is only one unhappy chapter in an unhappy life.

And yet this is a portrait of great sympathy and understanding—an astonishing delineation of a poet whom Schubert never met, but with whom he seems to have been in strong empathy. Of all the people with whom Schubert was even vaguely connected, Platen was the only one whom we know beyond doubt to have been homosexual. He was a German aristocrat who seems to have been somewhat less secretive about his predilections than many, perhaps because his birth and position assured him of a certain immunity from censure. He spent some time in Vienna in 1820, and it is interesting to speculate whether he came into contact with Schubert’s friend Franz von Bruchmann at this point. Platen went on to Erlangen, near Nuremberg, where he attended the lectures of Friedrich Schelling. Was it merely coincidence that Bruchmann (very much against the edicts of the time which forbade Austrian students to attend universities in foreign countries) went to Erlangen also? The contemporary drawings by Kupelwieser show that Bruchmann was a very good-looking young man, and it is possible that Platen was attracted to him. In any event, the two men became friends, whether in Erlangen, or earlier. Platen’s diaries from 1818 have been published and reveal an unreciprocated obsession with a young fellow officer, whom he nicknamed ‘Adrast’, when he was in Bavarian army. He continued to suffer from the pain of this emotional débâcle for some years, and it is very possible that the two Schubert settings (particularly Du liebst mich nicht) refer to Platen’s thwarted feelings for ‘Adrast’. (Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the name of Mayrhofer’s opera libretto for Schubert, written in 1818/19, was also Adrast, D137, hardly a common classical reference, even for the highly educated. At the centre of the story is the passionate affection of Adrast for his charge Attis, a younger man, and one is reminded that Mayrhofer, living with Schubert at the time, was ten years older and one of the composer’s literary and cultural mentors. The other was the much older Johann Michael Vogl.)

Before he returned to Vienna from Erlangen, Bruchmann was presented with a signed copy of Platen’s recently published Ghaselen which displayed the poet’s astonishing ability to handle oriental verse forms with great virtuosity. The flyleaf contained a dedicatory sonnet. Bruchmann is addressed with the intimacy of the ‘Du’ form. (In the 1834 edition of the Platen poems, this sonnet is titled ‘An F. von B’. On the facing page is a sonnet to Shakespeare which is openly homosexual in its sympathies and shows that Platen identified the sonnet form with Shakespeare’s addresses to ‘the master-mistress of my passion’.)

Platen’s writings thus reached the Schubert circle at more or less the same time that the composer had discovered the West-Östlicher Divan of Goethe. Whatever happened, or did not happen, between Platen and Bruchmann, they had a love of music in common. They talked a great deal of Schubert and his Goethe settings, and when Bruchmann came back to Vienna he sent to Platen Schubert’s first published settings of that poet. These were enthusiastically received by Platen (who had recently begun piano lessons) and his friends. Sometime in late 1821 the poet sent a poem, through Bruchmann, for Schubert’s attention. This was Die Liebe hat gelogen. Schubert set it to music. In April 1822 Bruchmann sent a copy of the song, in manuscript, back to Platen, together with a note which said, ‘Here you will find your poem set to music as desired. Thus I have done my part’. Platen is the only considerable poet who, outside the Schubert circle, wished to see his own name artistically linked with the composer’s. Schubert obliged with Die Liebe hat gelogen and Du liebst mich nicht, but why did Platen wish to have these particular, and deeply personal, lyrics set to music, and why did Schubert, not one to be bullied into musical setting, oblige almost immediately?

What Schubert heard about Platen from Bruchmann we shall never know. But there is a curious sense of intrigue in a poet sending such poems in manuscript (not the greatest of the Platen poems, but two of the most personally revealing) to a composer, via a sympathetic middle man. One can only wonder whether the poet sent the song on to another person, the faithless lover perhaps, as a type of letter raised to a higher power. Had Platen heard from Bruchmann that Schubert was sympathetic to the highly-charged and sometimes homoerotic poetry of Mayrhofer? (See the notes on Auf Helopolis and Uraniens Flucht.) Did Platen require his feelings for Adrast to achieve some immortal form through music? This episode suggests the complicity of three people of similar tastes—‘in the same boat’ as it were in terms of love and suffering. The song’s text certainly speaks of ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, and the music has a monumental grandeur, at the same time as an almost passive sense of tragedy—music for a blackmail victim—which is to be found nowhere else in Schubert’s songs, save perhaps Winterreise. If Schubert did not share Platen’s proclivities to any great degree, he certainly seems to have read between the lines, even without Bruchmann’s help, and tuned in to the poet’s highly-strung and complex personality with a Shakespearean sense of empathy and understanding. That he provided another highly unusual song a few months later, again tailored to Platen’s personality, suggests that this empathy was not a one-off accident.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997


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