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Erntelied, D434

First line:
Sicheln schallen
May 1816; published in 1850 in volume 48 of the Nachlass
author of text

This must be one of the most delightful of all the Hölty settings. It is, as Einstein points out, 'no longer an Arbeitslied designed for a particular purpose, but a song raised to the highest level of art.' It might not have been written for a specific band of workers during their harvest, but hard work, and joy in the physical outdoor life are writ large in this music. The key is E major (as in Blumenlied) and we can once again almost smell the flowers, or in this case the new-mown hay. The accompaniment is particularly fascinating; a makeshift woodwind orchestra of clarinets and flutes is underpinned by saucy bassoons which weave about in staccato semiquavers. This gives an old-fashioned air to the proceedings, and in some ways this music suggests the songs of C P E Bach or the counterpoint of the sixteenth-century Italian madrigalists. All this weaving of textures (the piece is a type of four-part invention) splendidly portrays a bustling atmosphere where each has his or her job to do and where joyful co-operation with one's fellow workers is the order of the day. When played on the piano the bass line has to do service in the first four bars as the sound of sickles whirring in the cornfield and, rather more delicately, as flowers trembling on the girls' bonnets. Eric Sams has pointed out that these semiquavers, tripping delicately in pastoral fashion, are related to the shepherdess's music in Mozart's Das Veilchen, a seminal influence on Schubert's work. On the words 'Freud ist überall' the bass line is doubled into striding octaves appropriate for general jubilation. At this point we fancy that we are hearing the slightly ponderous and hearty village dance music which was such a feature of the evenings during the harvest festivities. Schumann was to evoke similar rustic jubilation in his Das ist ein Flöten und Geigen from Dichterliebe. The postlude is a joy; staccato triplets, a double-dotted ascending fanfare and rumbustious mordents all combine to paint a picture of the high spirits and well-being that come after the completion of a hard job well done. It is seldom that an inveterate city dweller has thought himself into the rituals of country life with such imaginative empathy. The introduction printed in the Peters edition is almost certainly spurious, but nothing could be more heartwarmingly genuine than this song.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


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