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An Sie, D288

First line:
Zeit, Verkündigerin der besten Freuden
first published in 1895 in the Gesamtausgabe
author of text

Schubert's discovery of Klopstock in September 1815 unleashed a small flood of creativity. The first song he set to a text by this poet was the masterpiece Das Rosenband; within a month he had composed music in a number of different styles to match the poet's own different voices. We thus not only have tender love songs (like An Sie) but also a jaunty patriotic song (Vaterlandslied), an imitation of the mysteries of Ossian (Selma und Selmar), a grandiose religious epic (Dem Unendlichen) and an imposing ballad about Germany's early history (Hermann und Thusnelda). The most important musical name to be hitherto linked to the poet was Gluck who had set a number of Klopstock odes in 1774/5. These are beautiful songs, important in the history of pre-Schubertian Lieder, but with the more modern composer's rival settings of Die Sommernacht and Die früher Gräber it has to be admitted that Gluck's achievement is superceded by Schubert's addition of discreet touches of romantic warmth and spontaneity to match the poet's free metrical forms. As ever, the younger composer never attempts to impose a romantic overlay on texts which are unsuited to it (he is highly sensitive to the fact that Klopstock's art belongs very much to the eighteenth century) but he uses his gift for melody and his enriched harmonic vocabulary to give new life to a poet whom many might have thought passé.

An Sie is attractive and dignified. It uses a nineteenth-century harmonic palate (particularly in the second half of the song) at the same time as preserving some of the eighteenth-century conventions. For example the doubling of voice and piano at 'dich in der Ferne auszuforschen' ('seeking you in the far distance') is an old-fashioned practice but it somehow seems appropriate because of the pressing nature of the words; added to this, the vocal line rises in semitones – again appropriate to the words but, with Schubert's harmonies, a more modern effect than would have been used by Gluck. The setting of the second word, 'Verkündigerin' (a held note on the second syllable followed by a flurry of semiquavers), is as florid as a courtly bow, but it is no doubt seemly to address a herald in lofty manner. This device of a held note which culminates in a flourish is repeated for the adjective 'trübender' which suitably describes the flow of sorrowful tears. In short, everything that at first hearing might seem to be eighteenth-century musical mannerism is justified by a romantic response to the text. The longest note in the vocal line is on the repeat of 'Tränen zu viel'. Underneath this the piano changes chords to moving effect, and the postlude proves itself the jewel of the piece, a little solo which combines the stately poise of classicism with a more modern chromatic poignancy exemplified by the run of semiquaver triplets in the second last bar.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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