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Rastlose Liebe, D138

First line:
Dem Schnee, dem Regen
published in 1821 as Op 5 No 1
author of text

In a time-frame of less than a minute-and-a-half Schubert summons up a storm of raw energy and power ('a whirl of feeling, not a logical statement' as Capell writes) which was an immediate hit with his circle (the composer reportedly wrote it in a transport of ecstasy) and which has been at the centre of the Schubert repertoire ever since. The poem was written during a May snowstorm in 1776 and charts the poet's reactions to his burgeoning relationship with Charlotte von Stein – a mixture of fear and excitement, pain and elation, just as snow in May is in itself a contradiction in terms. Charlotte was a married woman but Goethe profoundly needed her influence in his life and was not afraid to declare his feelings in a way which was something new in the inhibited and predominantly Christian context of German love-poetry of the time. In his previous affairs there has been a good deal of self-dramatising and posturing. Suddenly Goethe feels himself newly sensitised – open to a relationship of equals rather than one where his intellect enables him to take the controlling role. Here he feels himself out of control, and with it all the exhilaration and fear which that strange and unfamiliar feeling brings. How Schubert in 1815, as far as we know still inexperienced in the torments of love, was able to empathise with these emotions is in itself miraculous. As Capell says 'Rastlose Liebe was a strange offspring to come of Salieri's teaching; nevertheless to the old master it was dedicated as No 1 of Op 5 when it was published in 1821'.

The text suggests a moto perpetuo with a flurry of semiquavers. Reichardt set it thus in 1794, as did Zelter in 1812. Schubert of course follows suit; he might have known these settings but it seems more likely that it was Goethe's text alone which suggested the restless Bewegung. Nevertheless the whole song has the characteristics of the North German school. It is seldom that one finds real speed of this kind in a Schubert song, but one encounters it often enough in songs by Mendelssohn (Zelter's pupil) such as Hexenlied, Reiselied, Neue Liebe and so on. There is no room for a pause for thought in a song like this. The construction of the whole is very tight, the piano is ceaselessly occupied in its a role as rhythmic power-generator; the effect of this brief scherzo would, in instrumental terms, be like the whirrings of a faultlessly oiled piece of machinery were it not for the anguish and elation which the human voice alone can express.

The introduction is a miracle (and very hard to play, as generations of accompanists have discovered). The whirling semiquavers in the right hand are marked sempre ligato; the ascending scale in the left hand in crotchets and quavers, partially chromatic and marked sempre staccato, sturdily underpins the flurry and pushes it forward. Thus ambivalence of feeling is immediately established, even in the articulation of the accompaniment. These six bars (over in a trice) present a bewildering succession of chords starting in E major and returning there after the tempest. During this prelude we feel that the singer has attempted to find an exit from the emotional maze, but having failed to do so has to stand his ground, his back against the wall, and explain his case. The singer's task is far from easy because a vocal heroism is required which is comparatively rare in Schubert. The high-lying 'Ohne Rast und Ruh' can only be attempted by singers with something of an operatic top. The gifted tenor Ludwig Tietze sung it at a concert in Vienna in 1824; this was less material less suited to the baritone Vogl. The second verse is marked piano which is essential for the introspective phrase 'Lieber durch Leiden wollt' ich mich schlagen' which contrasts with the first verse's descriptions of the wildness of nature. For the third verse ('Alle das Neigen von Herzen zu Herzen') the key signature changes to G major and semiquavers are replaced by triplets; this tiny adjustment to the accompaniment gives an impression of relative repose – we are transported with the poet's mind back to an intimate moment with Charlotte; the musical sequence – the second phrase a tone higher than the first – emblematic of leaning and yearning. The words 'Wie soll ich flieh'n? Wälderwärts zieh'n?' are brilliantly set as wildly rhetorical phrases (taking to the woods is no serious option) and 'Alles vergebens!' is a howl of pain almost animal-like in its intensity. Note the stretched out cadence (Alles), and the strength of the modulation into C sharp minor (vergebens). The effect of this moment, dominant to tonic, is powerfully suggestive of physical movement, like punching the air ('Oh damn!') in frustration. There are challenges around every corner here: the two bars of 'Krone des Lebens' (marked mezzo forte) are juxtaposed with two bars of 'Glück ohne Ruh' (marked piano), a mercurial change for both singer and pianist. The elongated setting of 'Liebe' towards the end (an E held high over the stave for four bars) is master-stroke; it suggests both rapture and pain by means of the tiniest changes of the supporting harmonies (Lachen und Weinen-like) which are all contained within the possibilities of one plangent note held in the voice as if to emphasise that love is an umbrella word for myriad feelings. The postlude descends into the nether regions of the keyboard and scurries to its offbeat and puckish conclusion, a frisson under the pianist's hands. Despite all the talk of pain and so on, the final impression of this music is that it is all worth it, that love is an adventure and delicious.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1995


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 24
CDJ33024Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 5 on CDJ33024 [1'29] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD6 [1'29] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDJ33024 track 5

Recording date
27 September 1994
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 24 (CDJ33024)
    Disc 1 Track 5
    Release date: October 1995
    Deletion date: October 2009
    Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
  2. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 6 Track 16
    Release date: October 2005
    Deletion date: July 2021
    Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
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