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Morgenlied, D266

First line:
Willkommen, rotes Morgenlicht!
first published in 1895 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

This is the first of Schubert's nine Stolberg settings – a line of songs which begins in fairly conventional manner (what John Reed terms 'the traditional vernacular style') but which was destined to end with two masterpieces (Auf dem Wasser zu singen, and Die Mutter Erde) eight years later in 1823.

Morgenlied one of a number of Schubert songs which greets the coming of dawn (Cora an die Sonne is another). There are also a number of songs about sunsets, and the going down of the sun prompts music of much greater majesty and ceremony, reaching its apotheosis perhaps in the Mayrhofer setting Freiwilliges Versinken. In contrast to that, the imagery of the new day is linked with new-born innocence, the clean slate of infancy. It is not surprising that something as elemental and unforced as a sunrise prompts music of such flowing naturalness from the composer. The key is F major, which is the quintessential pastoral tonality, and Mozartian echoes (not of the grander piano concertos or operas perhaps, but of the lesser known Lieder or wind music) add to the impression of a song in a graceful eighteenth-century frame. In the introduction a pleasing little piano figuration in two-fold descent is followed by a graceful triplet and the harmonisation of the tune in euphonious tenths between the hands. An unusual feature is the six-bar length of the introduction. For the first two lines of the poem the piano doubles the voice very much in the old style of earlier Lieder composers, but at 'der durch des Schlafes Hülle bricht' the two lines diverge in pretty counterpoint. The last two lines of the poem are repeated and the voice touches a high A on 'der durch des Schlafes Hülle bricht' as if itself breaking through the veil of sleep as it steps outside the confines of the stave. This song was obviously conceived from the start for the freshness and purity of the soprano voice. We expect the postlude to finish a bar sooner than it does; Schubert's asymmetrical five-bar ending adds a touch of unconventionality to a song which might have been written by his forbears were it not for moments like these.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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