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Der Schmetterling, D633

First line:
Wie soll ich nicht tanzen
c1819; published by Thaddäus Weigl in April 1826 as Op 57 No 1
author of text

This enchanting song, the most elegant of trifles, is often sung by women in recitals, but this butterfly, despite his lightness and grace, is a predatory male rogue and no mistake; the mood of the music is what the Germans would call 'schelmisch'. Just as the rose is a metaphor for the fallen woman, the butterfly is the inconstant man, going from bloom to bloom without care or regret. The introduction depicts dalliance perfectly: an upbeat of two semiquavers leads to a dotted crotchet, then an answering phrase a fifth lower with a tiny hunting-horn motif in the piano's left hand (the butterfly is a hunter after all, a 'Schürzenjäger' or skirt-chaser); then the same process all over again (he is still hovering, still sipping nectar) with a tiny change of harmony for the horns as they switch to the dominant. Will he stay? Certainly not! The closing bar of the introduction sees him fly away in glee, laughing and chuckling (if only a butterfly could) and ready to sing us his ditty.

The majority of the song is underpinned by Schubert's favourite dactylic rhythm, as if to underline that the creature is driven by instinct: his behaviour can be no other than it is, and it would be as futile to blame the stars for shining, as to expect anything else from him. What makes the accompaniment special are the deliciously weaving semiquavers played by the inner fingers of the pianist's right hand; the effect is of a fluttering of wings. At 'Immer schöner glänzen meine bunten Flügel' the right-hand thumb provides the suggestion of a chromatic scale which paints the image of glistening wings perfectly - we are reminded that one of the meanings of the word 'chromatic' is many-coloured. Capell (who follows Mandyczewski and erroneously places this among the 1815 songs) says that the butterfly's ramblings take rather a square form, but this is not always so. In the poem's first four lines the two-bar phrases begin with an upbeat, and end with the stress on an important verb or noun: 'Wie soll ich nicht tanzen? / Es macht keine Mühe und/reizende Farben'. This may be square, but deliberately so, like a square-dance. For the next two lines there is no upbeat, but the same rules of accentuation apply. When we come to the seventh line the ear expects to hear 'Immer süsser hauchen / alle kleinen Blüten'. Instead Schubert dislocates the rhythm by elongating the 'im' of 'immer' to a dotted crotchet, and makes the word 'süsser' take up a whole bar; this means that all the remaining words in the two-line phrase come together in eight tripping quavers, the speed of the syllables on the tip of the tongue making the flowers sound ever smaller, even more sweetly vulnerable to the butterfly's advances. In accenting the first word of each bar and changing Schlegel's prosody we get 'Immer süsser / hauchen alle / kleine Blüten'; the word 'Blüten' seems carelessly thrown away, and the adjective 'kleine' (small) is emphasised. The tiny piano interlude strikes a note of triumph in a fanfare which betokens the butterfly's work successfully accomplished before the strophe continues to its end with a varied recapitulation of the opening material. (There is something more abrasive here than we find in Goethe's Gleich und gleich which describes the meeting of flower and bee as a much more affectionate encounter between two creatures made for each other.)

The song is a purely strophic one, and the second verse provides no new surprises. The tune continues to be delightful of course, and the chromatic accompaniment at 'Wenn der Abend säuselt' is highly effective. At 'Wenn die Lüfte golden scheint die Wiese grüner' we hear the same capricious dislocation of the rhythm of the words. All in all there is a Cherubino-like charm to this music with an appropriately Mozartean response from Schubert. The butterfly loves the flowers, of course, but he also exploits them. As he is only fulfilling his destiny according to nature he is not to be blamed. If he were human his adventures would perhaps be excusable, like Cherubino's, on account of his youth. An older philanderer, judged in human terms, would deserve to be run through with a lepidopterist's pin.

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
Le Bestiaire
A66149Archive Service (LP transfer)This album is not available for download


Track 14 on CDJ33027 [1'29] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 12 on CDS44201/40 CD21 [1'29] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Track 4 on A66149 [1'25] Archive Service (LP transfer)

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