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An die Sonne, D272

First line:
Königliche Morgensonne
first published by J P Gotthard in 1872
author of text

Schubert seems to have thought of the rising and setting sun in the key of E flat; indeed, the majestic workings of nature (and here one includes a great deal of the composer's water music) seems to have been linked in his mind with a trinity of flats. For this composer, as for Mozart, this key signature denotes awe and an almost religious sense of reverence. The marking of this song is Mit Majestät and the poem's first word is 'Königliche' - 'Regal'. One is also reminded of the importance of this key in Die Zauberflöte, and the brass-like chords of the opening of this song are reminiscent of the opening of that opera. The Egyptians worshipped the sun as did many ancient cults. Although poetry of this kind is very much part of the eighteenth-century tradition of extolling the beauties of nature as the workings of God, one feels that Schubert, perhaps influenced by his reading of Ossian, has a pre-Christian religion in mind, as if the singer of hymns such as this was like Bellini's Norma, priestess of a Druidic cult in a far-off land swathed in the mists of time. This accounts for the difference between this song and the Stolberg setting Morgenlied which is also about a sunrise, painted on that occasion in very different homely pastoral terms. That overtly Christian text prompted music which is down-to-earth and Singspiel-like in mood as opposed to the pagan manner of grand opera which we can detect here. Both Baumberg settings, Cora an die Sonne and An die Sonne (probably composed in the same month and possibly the finest in this genre of short hymns), are also in E flat. Also in this key is Schubert's hymn to the setting sun, An die untergehende Sonne (Kosegarten).

An die untergehende Sonne is pervaded by downward movement in the melodic line and accompaniment which is appropriate to the sinking sun. An die Sonne on the other hand has a corresponding sense of upward momentum. It is very much written for the soprano voice – the heavenward flight of 'sei gegrüsst' (accompanied by ceremonial horn fanfares) in the poem's second line is capped by 'hoch gegrüsst' in the third. The most interesting passage, however, is the setting of the fourth line of the poem, 'golden fliesst schon um die Hügel'. In the accompaniment an ingeniously-built ascent from bass to treble clef mirrors and supports the gradual rising of the sun in the voice. This royal progress between the words 'die Hügel' and 'Geflügel' spans almost an octave from A to A flat in a ten-note scale including a number of semitone intervals. After this high point the melody subsides and bows, giving way to human wonder at all this natural beauty. The postlude, a rising sequence of tonic chords decorated with accented passing notes, echoes this phrase in miniature, including a final cadence after the ascent which is once again in a lower tessitura and a symbol of earthbound awe.

This is the only Schubert setting of Christoph August Tiedge, a prolific poet from Halle and the private tutor and secretary to Countess Elisa von Recke whom he accompanied to Italy and with whom he later lived in Dresden. Tiedge had an unusually long life but his reputation was made in his earlier years as poet of the religious and philisophical epic Urania über Gott, Unstreblichkeit und Freiheit (1801). Beethoven wrote two of his most interesting songs to a text from that celebrated work – different versions of An die Hoffnung (1805 and 1815). There are no less than eight volumes of Tiedge's collected works, although his writing has largely fallen into oblivion since the first half of the nineteenth century. Schubert found the poem of An die Sonne in Becker's Pocketbook and Almanac for Sociable Pleasures (1795).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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