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Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass 'Gesang des Harfners', D478 No 2b

First setting, second version; first published in 1895 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

The first of these songs Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt was the second setting (1816) of a text that had been originally composed in 1815. The last of the set An die Türen will ich schleichen seems to have given Schubert even less trouble. When he came to publish the cycle in 1822 the composer made only minor and unimportant revisions to the 1816 versions of both these songs.

Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß was a more complicated matter, however. Two settings date from the same period of 1816, and both were found wanting in 1822 when Schubert composed an entirely new third version of the text as a central panel for the publication. It is unfortunate that the two fine, and very different, songs recorded here have thus been eclipsed. The first of these was originally titled 'Harfenspieler III' and is a gently rocking 6/8 rhythm. The key is A minor, a key dear to Schubert and one which seems fixed in his mind as the appropriate tonality for the majority of his Wilhelm Meister settings. The simplicity of this song on the page belies a profound intensity when heard in performance. Folksong-like at the beginning, the words 'auf seinem Bette weinend' prompt an excursion into chromaticism which effectively characterises the Harper's tortured guilt. The extraordinary postlude which wanders high in the keyboard seems to depict the wandering of a stricken mind. Perhaps Schubert was dissatisfied with this song because it was a little too similar in mood and cast of melody to D325, the 1815 song Harfenspieler ('Wer sich Einsamkeit ergibt').

The next version turns its back on the simplicity of most of the other Wilhelm Meister songs. It is more sophisticated (one may almost say more ambitious) in terms of its accompaniment and harmonic changes. Of all the songs inspired by Goethe's novel, this is undoubtedly the quickest ('Etwas geschwind') and most restless. It paints a figure of hand-wringing neuroticism. Schubert retains the key of A minor and moves from there to F sharp minor, a real upward turn of the screw at 'der kennt euch nicht, ihr himmlischen Mächte'. The second verse begins in this key (with a change of key signature) and thence through E flat minor, B7 and E7. Then, by sharpening the bass note E (to emphasise the word 'kennt'), Schubert takes us into the first inversion of C#7 only to return to F sharp minor – but only for a crotchet. The bass F sharp falls to F natural and thence to E and before we know it we are back in A minor after a dizzy ride. This passage with its partially tremolando left- hand accompaniment can be compared to the 'Es schwindelt mir' section of the renowned, and final, Mignon setting Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt.

Despite what is perhaps too great an intensity within too short a time-frame, this is a fine tenor song (with the caveat of an unkind final low A) and deserves to be better known despite the fact that a histrionic portrait of the Harper emerges which is at odds with how Goethe describes him. The agitation of this setting fails to capture the essentially depressive nature of the character, and Schubert obviously realised this in 1822 when he composed the final setting.

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 15 on CDJ33024 [1'44] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 6 on CDS44201/40 CD16 [1'44] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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