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Schweizerlied, D559

First line:
Uf’m Bergli
May 1817; first published in 1885 in volume 7 of the Peters Edition
author of text

This song is a real little charmer, although Edith Mathis informs me that Goethe's attempts at Swiss German, the so-called Schwytzertütsch, are not as accurate as they might be. Here is a German entering into Swiss territory at his peril. Any visitor to Switzerland knows how different the German language is in that country.

Fox Strangways, the well-known British translator of the Schubert songs into English, chose to put this song into Devon dialect. Shakespearian echoes of comic characters with Mummerset accents come to mind, and this hearty bonhomie is appropriate for the way that the composer has set the poem. Schubert's Viennese Ländler and waltzes are generally more gracious and less rustic than this, but music from the sophisticated big city is bound to different from that of the 'provinces' – the German-speaking equivalent of Mummerset. In Schweizerlied we hear suggestions of cowbells and clog dancing, yodels and thigh-slapping in mid-dance (on the strong second beat of the bar) – in other words all the clichés of this type of character piece. The composer seems to have had as much fun with it as the poet had in writing it. Schubert being Schubert, the tune is marvellously infectious and although it may have been Goethe's intention to have fun at the expense of the Swiss, the end result is an affectionate salute to neighbours across the mountains. As with his Italian evocations, the composer seems to be no less in love with a style because it makes him smile. Despite the simplicity of the piano writing, it is amazing that in the spacing of the chords and in the intervals of the vocal line, Schubert creates a page of vocal music unlike any other in his output; it is a vivid thumbnail sketch, executed in a flash by the hand of a master. Unlike Goethe, the composer never had the opportunity to visit Switzerland, and the song pre-dates by eight years his own mountain holiday in Upper Austria where he might have heard folk music similar to this.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


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