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Ganymed, D544

First line:
Wie im Morgenglanze
March 1817; first published by Diabelli in 1825 as Op 19 No 3
author of text

There is spring in the youth's step from the very beginning; the piano's left-hand staccato notes (ignored by many, even those who rightly choose to play the song in two, rather than four, in the bar) underpin the sensuous melody of the right hand. At first this consists of an unremarkable ascent of an A flat arpeggio, and then a quick three-note descent to the chord of the dominant seventh. There is nothing very unusual about this formula, the alternation of a forward thrust with a downward sigh, but it somehow perfectly depicts questing curiosity at the same time as vulnerability. The voice then enters in slower note values. The very first 'Wie' is rather too long to be ideal from the point of view of prosody, but with this deliberate pull against the piano music's flow, lingering longing in the midst of spring's awakening is immediately established. There is everything ambivalent in this music of androgyny: repose and agitation, innocence and eroticism. The melodic line gambols and swoons: in the first few pages of the song, concealed in the midst of a bright-eyed hymn to nature, there is a sultry languor suggested by the opulence of the rich keys of A flat and C flat ('lieg ich und schmachte'), desire is dormant in the bud of the music, implanted by the god who will achieve his seduction of Ganymede from within. Then, with a little interlude of staccato crotchets, there is suddenly, and literally, a breath of fresh air. The hot-house tonality of flats is replaced by more bracing sharps. The trills are like wind rippling through a field of barley, and Jove plays his flute in the guise of a nightingale. Suddenly with bouncing, nervy quavers we have the music of metamorphosis; we hear the youth's trepidation and excitement as something moves beneath him, and lifts him to new realms, a staccato passage into another world. When the legato lines in voice and piano intertwine after this, there is a remarkable musical analogue for the key words in this passage 'umfangend umfangen'—embracing and embraced: the tiny little tune first heard on the words 'schweben die Wolken' (D C B C) is taken up by the piano and played underneath a second tune (D C F C) on the second appearance of 'Wolken'. Thereafter, although voice and piano are sometimes in rapturous unison, and there are two agitated passages suggestive of desire and the chase, there is a continual reciprocal playfulness, as each takes up the other's music; it is as if first one, then the other, is taking the initiative in kiss or embrace. Both eventually melt into a single inseparable unity. At the end of the song (wherein lies the famous Olympian challenge to the singer to complete the last phrase in one breath) we have reached the heavenly key of F major. There is no going back for Ganymede and a recapitulation of the opening tonality is out of the question. The postlude crowns the youth in his new divine incarnation – and the work, which has moved in an amazingly short time between the longings of earth and the achievement of god-like serenity.

At this stage of Schubert's life there is little doubt that he was beginning to feel his own god-like powers, and that his sympathies were with pagan rather than Christian ideals. The great new influence was the poet Johann Mayrhofer, and many of the songs Schubert wrote in that March of 1817 were all to do with the world of the ancients as seen through Mayrhofer's poems: Memnon, Antigone und Oedip, Orest auf Tauris, and so on. In Ganymed, the composer and his collaborator found a pre-echo of their Greek explorations in one of Goethe's poems penned over forty years previously. In this period of Schubert's enthusiasm for his friend's poetry, it is almost as if Goethe's Ganymed is set as a surrogate Mayrhofer work. The verses dress up the myth as a pantheistic allegory of man's relationship to God-in-Nature, but one cannot doubt that instructed by Mayrhofer, if not by his own education in the classics, Schubert was fully aware of its homo-erotic implications. The tale of the beautiful Trojan youth, seized by Zeus, in the guise of an eagle, to be cup-bearer of the gods, touched on the passions of people who lived a life of the greatest (and most necessary) discretion in Vienna, some of whom were probably part of the composer's new circle. Indeed it is almost certain that Mayrhofer, an avid admirer of the Greeks, was homosexual; 'griechische Liebe'—Greek Love—was then a common euphemism for the as yet unlabelled 'condition' of homosexuality. This is not the place to open a full-scale discussion of Schubert's own leanings (in a recent paper presented to the American Musicological Society, and published in 19th Century Music, the distinguished scholar Maynard Solomon argues that the composer was also homosexual, and part of a strong Viennese clandestine sub-culture), but just because Schubert's setting of Ganymed lacks the sumptuous sensuality of Wolf's masterful one (a Tiepolo to Schubert's smaller-scale Poussin perhaps) we should not suppose that he was somehow innocent of what the story was really about. It is outrageously patronising to assume that the composer broached this text without being every bit as aware as Wolf of all its different layers of meaning. He was living away from home for the first time, and the bohemian life-styles of his older friends, whether or not he shared all their tastes, must have aroused his curiosity, and represented an exciting freedom in stark contrast to the strictures of his father's house. This was the springtime of the twenty-year-old's life, and his joy in the beauties of the present was being matched by his deepening knowledge of the past. It is miraculous, but not so surprising, that side by side with the grandeur of songs like Memnon he was able to depict the verdant delicacy of Ganymed. We hear the freshness and naturalness of spontaneous, unselfconscious love. As well as man's love for nature (admittedly the least `embarrassing' of the song's manifold possibilities) Ganymed could also be said to be about the love of child for parent: love tinged with complex eroticism certainly, but completely lacking in guilt. This setting seems to accept sexual attraction as a gift from the gods, and as such is far truer to the values of Greek antiquity in pre-Judeo-Christian times than evocations of a decadent Olympus seen through Christian hindsight. The song was written by a composer whose fascination with sex was well-known to a number of his friends. But equally obvious to every Schubertian is the composer's inexhaustible ability to pour the purest of love into his music. Sadly the integration of love and sex in a long-term relationship was something that Schubert failed to achieve in his short life, but the transparent and artless way in which this poem has been set is a pointer to his own ability to see sex and love, on the highest level, as one and the same.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989


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