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Sonett II, D629

First line:
Allein, nachdenklich, wie gelähmt vom Krampfe
November 1818; first published in 1895 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text
Sonnet 35
translator of text

The opening figuration in the accompaniment feels familiar to the pianist - something about how the inner voices in the right hand are doubled by the left, and appear to pivot around a central obsessive harmonic point, while longer notes are held at the extremities of each hand. A search in the deeply embedded finger-memory of the Schubertian (players know that there is such a thing) unearths a passage from the Schiller setting Gruppe aus dem Tartarus. At the words 'folgen tränend seinem Trauerlauf' (a text which is also about the idea of making a journey under emotional stress) we find music with the same characteristics. More than ever we are aware of Schubert's highly sophisticated motivic language, an unconscious process whereby similar poetic images produce the same musical response—in general terms, if not always in detail. And there are times when different composers share this language as if it has been passed down from one generation to another like a spoken dialect. There is an example of this here: at 'schleichend träge' we have quavers, syncopated so as to be a semiquaver apart; thus Schubert depicts Petrarch's weary limbs in exactly the way that Schumann was to use the same piano figuration to paint Heine's (cf. Schöne Wiege meiner Leiden at the passage 'Und die Glieder matt und träge Schlepp' ich').

At 'Nicht andre Schutzwehr' the composer introduces a few bars of more-or-less unaccompanied recitative which quickly changes (at 'wo keine Freude rege') to a more measured section (marked 'Unruhig') with impatiently alternating quavers under the pianist's hands. The interlude after 'dampfe', the first phrase more rhetorical, the answering echo suppressed and more menacing, is worthy of Der greise Kopf from Winterreise. At 'So dass ich glaube jetzt' Schubert experiments with a curious accompanimental figure—a triplet shared between the hands (first and third notes in the left hand, the second in the right) which is to be found nowhere else in the songs; the effect is curiously like a limp, and we remember the 'gelähmt vom Krampfe' of the first line (an image incidentally furnished by Schlegel, for it is not to be found in the original Petrarch). For this section we have modulated to the key of G flat major, a shift remote from the tonic of G minor and thus suggestive of a Cloud-cuckoo-land of fantasy and escape where the poet is able to converse with mountains, rivers and forests. We emerge from this and return to G minor for the last section (marked 'Langsamer').

As in Sonett I, Schubert has reserved his greatest inspiration for the last two lines, an envoi of infinite tenderness. We move into 6/8, and in similar fashion to the first piece the change of time-signature (and in this case from simple to compound time) adds a lilt to the music which suggests, in splendidly ambiguous Schubertian manner, the blessings of love as well as the pains. 'Dass nicht der Liebesgott mich stets getroffen' is accompanied by a beautiful counter-melody in the piano's left hand; this sounds like a cello solo high on the finger-board, and the effect of the whole is floating and ethereal. We see the god of love hovering around the poet's head, conversing with Petrarch in mid-flight. The solitary man is encouraged back into conversation with the ornamented setting of 'Reden': demisemiquavers and semiquavers signify words tumbling from a mouth too long condemned to silence. The vocal line ends in B flat major, but a tiny postlude changes everything: very much in the manner of the song Erster Verlust where the vocal line of a sad song ends in the major, a single bar gently but firmly seals the fate of the singer in the relative minor.

It is curious that no one seems to have noticed that this song in its subject matter, and in its grandeur, is a miniature Winterreise nine years in advance. Read as a poem, Petrarch's sonnet (among his most celebrated works) seems extremely appropriate to the character of Schubert in extremis, and to his lonely path as a creator and human being. There is enough testimony as to Schubert's sensuality for us to know that the god of love was an ever-present companion in his life, even on the rough and wild paths, and one may be sure that there was much about his private life that was concealed from others. It is significant that this poem was also translated by Schubert's great friend Mayrhofer, although with considerably less skill than Schlegel, and probably using the older poet's translation as a model. It is easy to see why Mayrhofer was interested in this sonnet, for one can read into it not only the plight of a man hopelessly in love but also that of one who is condemned to find love only on the wild paths, and who is forced by public scrutiny into concealing his very nature. Petrarch's image of burning inwardly, and concealing all, brings Mayrhofer's Memnon to mind.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 27 - Matthias Goerne
CDJ33027Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 6 on CDJ33027 [2'50] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 2 on CDS44201/40 CD21 [2'50] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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