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Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall, D399

First line:
Sie ist dahin, die Maienlieder tönte
Second setting; first published in 1895
author of text

The poem is typical of the thoughtful Hölty texts which appealed to the composer in that year. This lyric must have haunted Schubert, not only because it is hauntingly beautiful but because he felt that he had failed in the setting of it. He left D201 incomplete, and its official status as a fragment (in fact there is not a great deal missing) has denied a touching little song a place in the canon.

When Schubert came to set the text again (this version) he opted for the same gentle movement (two-in-a-bar with flowing triplet accompaniment) which he had used for a number of other 1816 songs such as Ins stille Land and Winterlied. As it happens, Auf den Tod einer Nachtigall also shares a key with these two songs, the same mournful and elegiac A minor which the composer was to use (also in 1816) for the laments of the bitter and crazed harper from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister. The song has a seamless vocal line (with only one quaver rest in 36 bars) which holds together the syntax of the poem's phrases while never giving the singer pause for breath. The rhythm of the vocal line is deliberately drab, in keeping with sadness, depression and emptiness. There are glimmers of consolation, and the modulation into the C major of happier days at 'durch ihr Lied den ganzen Hain verschönte' is noteworthy, as is the dotted quaver and semiquaver melisma at the end of the same phrase, the only moment when there is a touch of rhythmic liveliness in a grove of unadorned crotchets and listless quavers. The mood of the whole of Schubert's little song is somewhat bleak. Whether it is an improvement on the first setting in F sharp minor is debatable, although much can be done with it by a singer at ease in the seemingly improvised spontaneity of Schubert's arioso style.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 18 - Peter Schreier
CDJ33018Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 5 on CDJ33018 [3'13] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD14 [3'13] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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