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Die abgeblühte Linde, D514

First line:
Wirst du halten, was du schwurst
1817 (?); published in November 1821 as Op 7 No 1
author of text

The accompaniment for the whole of this song evokes operatic orchestration. The opening bar of the recitativo stromentato, for example, suggests strings, and the answering phrase in the next bar a reply from the woodwinds. The voice part is marked 'Recit' at the outset, something which Schubert was less inclined to do as he got older; he preferred to integrate recitative and aria without a sense of formal division. After the words 'wenn mir die Zeit die Locken bleicht' there is a ravishing falling sequence of phrases in the accompaniment (written out for all the world like a short score of an orchestral interlude) where each bar seems to represent a different age of man with sharps sinking to naturals and then to flats as if colour were being drained from the hair, and youthful vitality from the body. This sense of receding energy also does splendid service as an introduction to 'Wie du über Berge fuhrst'; the same music might also be thought to describe, in advance, the friend's departure over the mountains as we lose sight of him with each step of the harmony. The recitative has begun in A minor and wends its way, via a beautifully ornamented cadence full of sighs and longing, towards G major. This is the dominant of the key of the extended section which now follows.

There is a great deal about this C major effusion (including the same opening notes of the vocal line) which recalls another aria in the same key, Liebe schwärmt auf allen Wegen. This is actually an orchestrated aria from a Schubert opera, and once again we are made aware that the writing of this piece suggests a piano reduction of a full score. In both cases the vocal line is interrupted by an echoing orchestral interlude or interjection; in the case of Die abgeblühte Linde the piano writing suggests cello solos as miniature interjections. It is interesting too that the theme of both works is 'Treue' or constancy, perhaps the reason the composer has chosen C major, unsullied by chromatic complications, to paint this sterling quality. No matter where the piece wanders, it returns to this key. Mention of the future on 'Und was die Zukunft beugt' in the second verse takes us into the exotic reaches of B flat minor as if we are being led into uncertainty, not to mention temptation, but mention of the lime tree at the beginning of the third verse ('Sieh, die Linde blühet noch') returns us to the security of C major. Unusual phrase lengths are a feature here (4 bars + 3 bars in the opening cantilena) as well as quasi-operatic melismas and in one instance a trill on 'die' – a strange word to have inspired this exuberance; even the vocal line seems to have been thought in instrumental terms at this point. The sequence of modulations at 'doch Ihre Blüten stiehlt der West' suggests cunning and trickery as if Time was stealing a march on its ageing victims. The descending bass-line chromatics of 'Einsam steht sie dann' droop and wither most effectively as the accompaniment, with the right hand's group of quavers off the beat, suggests a mood molto patetico and again operatic. Mention of the true and trusty gardener (the second line of the fourth verse) prompts one of Schubert's magical changes from A minor into A major. From then on all is rapturous operatic fantasy as these two remaining lines of text provide all the words necessary for a further seven lines of music. Repetition of this kind is highly unusual in Schubert's songs; the composer treats the poem as a libretto and the singer has her work cut out to make her rapturous repetitions sound convincing. Various tricks of the trade (including extending the word 'Nur' as it is sung over shifting harmonies which triumphantly return us to C major for good and all) reinforce the feeling that this song's place in the canon stands between Lied and aria. The piece closes undramatically in a mood of quiet rapture, murmuring its delight in love and constancy. The poem enshrines a touching thought about the enduring nature of love and friendship which must have appealed to the composer. The only poem which he himself penned, and then set to music (Abschied from the summer of 1817) is also about a leave-taking between friends. Is it possible that Schober's departure from Vienna in the summer of that year also occasioned this setting?

John Reed questions that this song and its Op 7 sibling, Der Flug der Zeit, were composed in 1817. He prefers to think of them as written in 1821 and offers arguments about when and how the composer might have encountered the poet. And yet I find it hard to believe that the two Széchényi songs belong to a year which numbers Geheimes and the first Suleika among its achievements. There is something about these two works which, for all their beauties, remains experimental. The operatic nature of Die abgeblühte Linde suggests that either the mature composer was pandering to the tastes of the work's dedicatee (none other than the noble poet) or that as a younger man he was still very taken with the Italian style and interested, as a musical gardener, in how he could cross-breed it with the Lied.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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