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Das Mädchen aus der Fremde, D252

First line:
In einem Tal bei armen Hirten
Second setting; first published in 1885 in volume 7 of the Peters Edition
author of text

The first version of this song is nothing like this in mood; it is not one of those instances where the composer feels tempted to tinker with details in an earlier conception. Instead he has decided that he wants to begin again in an entirely different vein. Reed finds the second version more memorable, but other commentators such as Bauer feel that the first is preferable. It is certainly more original, for Schubert has opted second time around for a Papageno-like ditty which brings Mozartian Singspiel to mind. This is appropriate enough for the priapic nature of spring (the poem is an allegory about that season's arrival on the landscape) but it fails to capture the air of mystery about the first tentative stirrings of seasonal warmth and colour. The gliding barcarolle of the 1814 setting had admirably portrayed this important aspect of the poem.

Nothing is as simple as it seems, however, for the composer is in the business of marrying the Mozartian past and the Schubertian present. Here the tuneful simplicities of the vocal line (mostly doubled by the piano's right hand) are underpinned by a much more adventurous left hand which disrupts the proceedings like a rogue cellist who improvises interesting musical embroidery on the periphery to enliven a staid string quartet (listen to the long descending chromatic scale underneath 'so bald die ersten Lerchen schwirrten'). That this concept was not foreign to the composer's musical nature is proved by the slow movement of the celebrated String Quintet of 1828 where the second cello is given exactly this task to sublime effect. To return to this rather more humble song, however, a trill in the viola line under 'Lerchen schwirrten' begins to depict the song of the soaring larks. This is admirably continued by the ornate little postlude which carols joyously. This is appropriate enough in relation to bird-song, but less suitable for some of the other verses.

Despite these little felicities, the composer seems to find this text rather elusive. Perhaps, like a number of the Schiller texts which gave him a good deal of trouble, he thought that the song was going to be easier to 'capture' than it proved to be. Schubert's music seems always slightly stilted when it is required to illustrate allegory; he was better off with the storytelling excitements of the longer Schiller ballads, and of course with the intensely human shorter lyrics of Goethe.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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