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Du liebst mich nicht, D756

First line:
Mein Herz ist zerrissen, du liebst mich nicht!
July 1822; published in September 1826 as Op 59 No 1
author of text

There is nothing quite like this song elsewhere in the Schubert repertory, but there are three other songs it brings to mind, all of them based on a similar rhythmical figure (either a dotted crotchet and three quavers in a 3/4 bar, or three quavers as an upbeat to a dotted crotchet, also in 3/4): Suleika I (Vol 19), one of Schubert’s greatest romantic songs, where the two lovers are separated by distance; Abendstern (Vol 6) where the star of love stays apart, alienated from its companions; and Fülle der Liebe (Vol 27) which is love transfigured by suffering into something grandly religious. It seems that this rhythm came to mind, as far as Schubert was concerned, when a text spoke of suffering for love, or of surmounting the obstacles of passion where love, in some guise or other, triumphs despite all. Du liebst mich nicht is the dark side of this triumph, the tortured survival of love despite a lack of reciprocation.

This rhythmic figure pervades Fülle der Liebe in an almost uncomfortable way, as if to denote obsession and fanaticism, and the same may be said for Du liebst mich nicht. In the accompaniment, the motif of dotted crotchet and three quavers (or a close variant, where the dotted crotchet becomes quaver and accented crotchet) dominates 45 out of 56 bars. This is one of the ways that Schubert hammers home the idea of an unbending fixation, and it is this that makes the song unique. Instead of the sad, resigned acceptance familiar to the Schubertian—the trace of a tear hidden in a smile, or a smile through tears—we find out-and-out panic and an hysteria suggestive of suppressed rage. The form of the poem is a ghasel (like Sei mir gegrüsst!) and this means that we hear the words ‘Du liebst mich nicht’ no fewer than ten times during the song, allowing that the composer adds his own repetitions to Platen’s. As in Fülle der Liebe, the sameness of the rhythm is tempered by constant changes of harmony which border on the deranged. Here the composer indulges every tendency to shift and modulation at his disposal in a dizzy and gut-wrenching display of harmonic legerdemain. But this is no mere opportunity for the composer to show his skill at weaving in and out of the home key, normally a pleasurable and leisurely pastime for Schubert. Here the effect of all this shifting is that of a desperate man searching for an escape, a way out of the maze. Nevertheless he is trapped—each pathway leads to the same conclusion: ‘From every viewpoint, and from whichever way I look at it, you do not love me.’ ‘Ich liebe dich nicht’ rings in his ears and haunts him in much the same way as ‘Lebewohl’ continues to resound in the mind of the poet in Wolf’s Mörike song of the same name.

At the beginning the song seems to be a soliloquy, bitterly addressed to a memory of the person who has abandoned him, but in the passage beginning ‘So soll ich die Sterne, so soll ich den Mond’ there is a modulation where we move into a more intimate confrontation; the singer seems to look his lover in the face as he tearfully enumerates the full extent of his loss and predicament. Here the words ‘Sterne’ and ‘Mond’ are set to mournfully-drooping minor thirds. At the repeat of this line we have the same words set to rising major thirds, as expressive a use of the ‘pathetic’ major as anywhere in the Schubert songs, and strangely more tearful than the minor-key inflections.

There is a violence and desperation about this song which is scarcely familiar Schubertian territory, and it is no surprise that at first he reserved a key for it, G sharp minor, which is not found elsewhere in his songs. The orthography of all those harmonic changes in this tonality is as tortured as the poem itself, bristling with accidentals, the complicated expression of a complicated passion. When the work came to be published in 1826, the composer revised and simplified it, perhaps under pressure from the publisher Leidesdorf. The postlude is shortened and the key is changed to a more pianistically accessible A minor; this brings the song closer to Mayrhofer’s Abendstern, mentioned above, which has the same tonality and rhythmic impulse, as well as a related masochism—albeit more quietly expressed.

If Schubert displayed a deep understanding of Platen’s nature in Die Liebe hat gelogen, he seems to have grasped the significance of Du liebst mich nicht in an even more astonishing way. As in Die Liebe hat gelogen there is a scrupulous avoidance of any pronoun to fix the sex of the object of affection. The diary entries concerning the poet’s love for his ‘Adrast’ (which Schubert could not have possibly known) display a similar self-lacerating tone of abandonment, loneliness and inner turmoil. Despite the fact that Capell dismisses this poem as written to a formula, and states that the poet is only interested in metrical virtuosity, this is a love poem unlike others, which the composer turns into music unlike any other. The meaningful and lengthened setting of ‘Narzissen’ in the poem’s last line, an unlikely climactic point for an impassioned fortissimo if taken at face value, shows a classicist’s understanding of the background to the flower’s name: ‘A Grecian lad, as I hear tell, One that many loved in vain, Looked into a forest well And never looked away again’, as A E Housman put it and as Butterworth and Ireland set it. In the outburst at the floral display, culminating with the narcissus, the poet dismisses these flowers; the man he has loved is irreplaceable, and a new flowery youth will not do. This emphasis on the narcissus, the flower of male beauty, is even more marked in Schubert’s musical reaction than in Platen’s poem. The nearest relation of this song is Abendstern, which may also be interpreted as the isolated plaint of the homosexual from his fellows, particularly when the object of his passion is unavailable to him. In any case, there is in Du liebst mich nicht a tension, a sense of panic, and a hopelessness which speaks of a secret world, and a dangerous one, of fantasy and misplaced hope. Many people knew how Johann Winckelmann had been murdered in 1768 by an Italian pick-up, and Platen wrote an eloquent sonnet in honour of the great art historian. In setting these two poems the composer has somehow entered the poet’s world with unerring accuracy, leaving us a searing musical portrait of a great German poet.

Karl August Georg Maximillian, Graf Platen von Hallermünde was born in Ansbach to an aristocratic Protestant family which was down on its luck; thus he never had the financial means his birth and status implied. He attended school in Munich, before departing for military service, and further study in Würzburg and Erlangen. Apart from meeting Franz von Bruchmann during this period, he encountered such luminaries as Jean Paul, J Grimm and Friedrich Rückert. Platen published his Ghaselen in 1821 (Bruchmann was given an inscribed copy) as well as Lyrische Blätter in the same year. Vermischte Schriften appeared in 1822 and Neue Ghaselen in 1823. His attempts to write plays met with no success, and he left Germany in 1826 disenchanted with his home country; in Italy he believed he would find a more tolerant ambience in which to live. Platen died in Syracuse in December 1835.

Schubert only set two of his poems, although it seems that he had intended to set two further lyrics, interestingly enough, on the theme of winter. (The Platen songs could be seen as forerunners of Winterreise.) The other major composer to interest himself in Platen’s poetry was Johannes Brahms in the songs of Opus 32.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997


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