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Der Zufriedene, D320

First line:
Zwar schuf das Glück hienieden
first published in 1895
author of text

By October 1815 Schubert had already composed a large number of wonderful songs. But he was still fascinated by the compositions of those who had come before him, and humble enough to pay musical homage to his forbears and distinguished contemporaries. On 23 October 1815 a volume of Beethoven songs almost certainly lay before him on his desk – not the complete Lieder in the single Peters Edition volume available today, but the collection of six songs Op 75, published in 1810. Schubert composed two songs of his own on 23 October 1815, and both of them used poems which appear in this Beethoven opus: Goethe’s Mignon (Kennst du das Land?) and Reissig’s Der Zufriedene. Moreover Beethoven’s songs are both in A major and Schubert follows suit in his choice of key; in Beethoven both songs are in 2/4 and likewise with Schubert; both of Beethoven’s songs use semiquaver triplets in their accompaniments, and so do those of his younger contemporary. After studying these Schubert songs it is curious to encounter those by Beethoven which were composed first. There is a similar sense of déjà-vu when we encounter a ballad by Zumsteeg which seems already half familiar to us from the Schubert setting of the same lyric. It is as if the young composer has reverently applied tracing-paper to the works of an established master, only to come up with a copy magically superior to the original. Zumsteeg’s classical models are rendered almost unrecognizable by the exuberance of an apprentice touchingly aware of his debt to those who have gone before him at the same time as revelling in his superior powers. Thus in some cases we have an extraordinary mixture of homage to, and unintentional annihilation of, one composer’s achievement by another.

There is not that much to choose between the two settings of Der Zufriedene; neither is among their composers’ masterpieces. Both are exuberant and cheeky, but Schubert wins on grounds of melodic memorability. Beethoven stays in his chosen key throughout the strophe; Schubert is rather more subtle. After the first two lines of poetry the piano’s interlude modulates briefly into E as if the achievement of coming up in the world requires a lift to the dominant – an apt illustration of ‘reich’ and ‘gross’. At ‘allein bin ich zufrieden’ the vocal line slides down into G major as if contented to sink back into a more humble tonal position in life. The ambitions of the E major digression and the diffidence of the G major retreat are then both eschewed in favour of a quick return to the middle path of A major for the rest of the verse. Like Wolf’s Gebet the song is about ‘holdes Bescheiden’, blessed moderation. Tiny details these, but they are telling enough to show how Schubert saw dramatic possibilities in lyrics which had seemed uneventful to older musicians’ eyes. More than any composer before him (and possibly since), Schubert found subtle musical analogues for the poetry he chose to set. These are often so deeply woven into the music’s fabric that it often takes a practised ear to hear the ingenuity at work and identify exactly what it has that has made the composer respond to the text in a certain way. Thanks to Schubert, the art of song-writing had come on in leaps and bounds between 1810 when Beethoven’s Op 75 was written, and 1815.

Schubert set only this one poem by Christian Reissig, an Austrian who like another poet on this disc, Theodor Körner, took part in the Napoleonic Wars. Reissig fought in the Spanish campaign and was badly wounded in 1809. He was apparently a particularly implacable opponent of the French Emperor. Like many occasional poets and writers of the time, he was published in periodicals and almanacs rather than in book form. His words found favour with a number of composers resident in Vienna, none more so than with Beethoven who made seven settings of Reissig’s poems between 1809 and 1816.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1994


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 20
CDJ33020Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 8 on CDJ33020 [2'15] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 11 on CDS44201/40 CD11 [2'15] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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