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Mondenschein, D875

First line:
Des Mondes Zauberblume lacht
January 1826; first published posthumously by Diabelli in April 1831 as Op 102
author of text

This quintet for two tenors and three basses (the first tenor being a solo part with a challengingly high tessitura) has a chequered history. After its composition in January 1826 the composer put it aside until it was performed (advertised as a 'new' quintet) at a Philharmonic Society concert on 3 January 1828. We know that Ludwig Tietze sang lead tenor on this occasion. In May 1828 Schubert sent the work to the firm of Schott in Mainz as part of a package of music which he hoped to have published (it included the Impromptus for piano which later appeared as Op Posth 142). Schott found the Impromptus 'too difficult for the French market' and eventually sent them back; they were prepared to publish the quintet, but only at half the fee that Schubert had asked for it. It seems that this was not acceptable to the composer (he had written to Schott that 'both compositions have been very well received here') and he asked for it back. It seems that Schott returned the autograph of the vocal score but not the supplementary piano part that went with it. We know that the work initially had an accompaniment because it is a matter of record that one Frau Schmiedel played the piano for it at the Philharmonic concert. But the piece also works well unaccompanied, and when it was eventually published by Diabelli in 1831 the accompaniment was a simple shadowing of the vocal parts in short score. The question is whether this piano part (marked 'ad libitum') was provided by Schubert himself, or whether it was simply put together by Diabelli in the absence of the composer's own (presumably more adventurous) piano part. That autograph was still probably in the possession of Schott who brought out an unauthorized edition of the quintet in 1831 or 1832 both with and without piano. By sad chance, not a single copy of this edition has come down to us, so we cannot tell whether the accompaniment was different from that of the Diabelli edition recorded here.

Schober's poem is entitled Vollmondnacht in his collected poems (1842). It is clear that Schubert worked from an earlier version of the text, and that the poet changed more than the title when he came to prepare his works for publication many years after they were written. The words put Schubert in mind of water music, as if the stars swim in a heavenly constellation of seas and lakes. The music is cast as a gentle dance, and is in the same key as that most famous of Schubert's barcarolles, Das Fischermädchen. Another barcarolle comes to mind, the solo setting of Mayrhofer's poem Der Gondelfahrer which is also in hypnotic 6/8 time. Four of the five voice parts are written within the normal range of the male part-song; they provide the pulsating heart of the music. The first of the two tenors echoes and elaborates what his colleagues have sung and is a star in every sense. His role is that of both soloist and commentator: one is somehow reminded of the decoration of the second cello part in the slow movement of the String Quintet. There is no doubt that the composer needed this heady tessitura to paint the ethereal nocturnal textures of such a text (cf. Nachthelle). The runs on 'entfesselt in den Geisterreih'n' (Schober's printed poem has the more prosaic 'Freundenreih'n') seem typical of the somewhat Italianate use of melisma which we find in many songs of the period, although the writing is seldom as florid as this. The piece is full of characteristically Schubertian modulations: the change into A major at 'ein Silbergarten duftumrauscht' is magical, as is the long return to the tonic key of A flat via C flat major in the section beginning 'er trinkt in stiller Schwärmerei'. It is little wonder that Schubert thought this piece worth the sixty florins he asked for it, as opposed to the thirty florins condescendingly offered by Schott.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1996


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