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Wiegenlied, D867

First line:
Wie sich der Äuglein kindlicher Himmel
1826 (?); first published in November 1828 (two days after Schubert’s death) as Op 105 No 2
author of text

Johann Gabriel von Seidl was a gifted Schubert contemporary, seven years younger than the composer and the exact contemporary of the poet Mörike in the years of both his birth and death. Seidl was infinitely ambitious, very talented and versatile, destined for worldly success in Vienna, though not world fame. The poems set by Schubert are the work of a man in his early twenties, and what he lacks in depth he makes up for in flair and atmosphere. This poetry often induces in Schubert a type of hypnotic musical response which almost constitutes a style of its own. The composer is moved to music by Seidl's words, and finds a spellbinding atmosphere immediately; but the poetry somehow meanders and lets the composer down in terms of follow-through or development. The Seidl songs (apart from the Refrain Lieder written for commercial reasons) are always ravishing pieces of music, but they stay in one place. In Im Freien for example (where the poem is imitative of Goethe) Schubert writes a work of heavenly length which does not develop or flower in the manner of a Goethe song; it is up to the poet to usher the composer into new and deeper levels of expression, and the young Seidl, gifted though he may be, is not Schubert's equal here. The same might be said of Das Zügenglöcklein, Am Fenster, and this Wiegenlied. Only in Die Taubenpost is Schubert's genius served as well as can be imagined by Seidl's talent.

Thus is explained the only limitation of this song: a length which would lead to monotony if it were not for the composer's genius. Nevertheless this is the purest of Schubert, and he has lavished music on this lullaby which glows with innocence and unalloyed delight. The idea of delicacy and smallness are apparent in the very first bar: the first figuration, four quavers ascending through both staves in the key of A flat, seems as perfectly formed as fingers on a baby's hand; the fact that each one works perfectly is the kind of miracle that no parent can quite believe. The pianist must cultivate a mother's touch, both gentle and sensuous. The A flat arpeggio is repeated in the second half of the bar before the music shifts into the second inversion of the subdominant with the least amount of effort. The little finger of the pianist's left hand remains curled reassuringly around the bass A flat, and the fingers of the right have to shift only a semitone upwards. This is like 'first steps at the keyboard', but if it is baby language it is the kind that is spoken to a child by a besotted adult; Seidl's poem is of course precisely this, its short lines attempting to mirror the sort of simplicity which a child could grasp. The move to the dominant seventh at the beginning of the third bar continues the interplay of simple chords; this weaves a cat's cradle of an accompaniment which is mostly lovingly legato, here and there enlivened by a tripping staccato glint. The fourth bar introduces a cross-rhythm which is the gentlest of teases, a sudden smile flickering across the baby's face, perhaps, which causes the maternal heart to miss a beat in its pleasure. A parent's love is as basic and unquestioning as this, all sophistication reduced to the fundamentals of a loving response, and only Schubert can get away with mirroring this in music, without toppling into sentimentality. He uses Seidl's strophes in pairs (the second is indented on the page in the manner of a chorus) to make one musical verse. There is a change of mood and a move to the relative minor at 'Schliesse sie einst so'; the trickle of murmured quavers in the vocal line is replaced by a broader cantilena of minims and crotchets. A felicitous contrast of harmony underlines the difference between 'drinnen' and 'aussen'. The second musical verse (the fourth verse of Seidl's poem) moves to F major rather than F minor, and we realize that although small details of word-setting are carefully changed in each strophe, these must not disturb the hypnotic nature of the music. These tiny modifications are as subtle and private as the exchange of love between mother and child: each moment of interaction brings a new emotional inflection invisible to outsiders. The third musical verse is sometimes omitted, particularly by German singers, who find mention of garlands of laurel hopelessly outdated. But the song goes on unimpeded by embarrassment, or concern at its length. We are drawn into another world and we stay there, under Schubert's spell, until the child falls asleep and he allows us to leave the room.

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. 26 - Christine Schäfer, John Mark Ainsley & Richard Jackson
CDJ33026Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Schubert: The Songmakers' Almanac Schubertiade
CDD220102CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service


Track 11 on CDD22010 CD1 [3'49] 2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
Track 15 on CDJ33026 [5'45] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 14 on CDS44201/40 CD31 [5'45] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDD22010 disc 1 track 11

Recording date
24 November 1983
Recording venue
St Barnabas's Church, North Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Songmakers' Almanac Schubertiade (CDD22010)
    Disc 1 Track 11
    Release date: March 1997
    Deletion date: March 2010
    2CDs Dyad (2 for the price of 1) — Archive Service
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