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Hymne an den Unendlichen, D232

First line:
Zwischen Himmel und Erd’ hoch in der Lüfte Meer
first published by Czerny in 1829 as Op posth 112 No 3
author of text

The other two Schiller settings (Das Mädchen aus der Fremde and Punschlied) are almost too light and gentle to be truly characteristic of this poet and the role his work played in Schubert's musical life. This four-part setting has an epic grandeur which seems more appropriate to a writer to whom the composer turned when he was in a Beethovenian (as opposed to Mozartian) frame of mind. Having said this, the quartet recorded here recalls Haydn in the grand manner of Die Schöpfung. Typical of that master is the quasi-canonic 'pile-up' of vocal parts beginning in the bass (doubled by a 'cello' line in the accompaniment) at 'schwindelnd gaukelt der Blitz umher'; this builds upwards as the tenor and alto add the same words in different note values, and the soprano makes the last and latest entry on top of a sumptuous bank of sound supported by throbbing semiquavers in the pianist's right hand. As is common in the composer's choral writing of the time, the piano doubles the vocal line, at least in the beginning. We may have the initial impression that it is there only to help the choir in rehearsal, but the grandeur of the poem needs the support of the most effulgent piano sound. Schubert fills out the chords in the piano part, and allows himself (from 'ich denke dich, Ewiger') a whole page of demisemiquaver arpeggios which allow the upper parts to float free of doubling. The bottom line is written for a true bass; it touches low F and is not, as in a good deal of the composer's partsong writing, suitable for baritone.

One can only wonder as to whether Schubert conceived this song for performance in church where there were singers (including his beloved Therese Grob) who would have been able to tackle it. But perhaps this poem where God is addressed (and responds in the line 'Kreaturen, erkennt ihr mich?') is too 'modern' a notion of God in Nature to have appealed to the clergy. It certainly seemed to have been a way of thinking of God which appealed to Schubert. Only a few months later he composed the Klopstock setting Dem Unendlichen which lays the foundation, as John Reed points out, of the composer's epic song style which was to reach its fullest flowering in a song like Die Allmacht.

This piece was posthumously published in a type of 'suite' of religious songs concocted by the publisher Czerny. This commercially viable order tacked on this quartet (definitely dated from 1815) as a conclusion to two Uz settings (Gott im Ungewitter and Gott der Weltschöpfer) which were not dated at all. It was Schubert's almost invariable practice in 1815 to date his works. In any case the relative sophistication of the Uz quartets suggests a somewhat later date of composition.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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