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Das Heimweh, D851

First line:
Ach, der Gebirgssohn hängt
August 1825; published in 1827 as Op 79 No 1
author of text

This is a work which is neither a straightforward nor modified strophic song. It is contemporary with the Schulze cycle. Its genesis shows how Schubert used the lessons learned from his strophic works in order to plan and perfect his larger song structures. The poem as it is printed above does not reflect the poet's original metre: for the convenience of the listener, it is divided into four sections which correspond with the shape of Schubert's setting. Pyrker's long hexameters have been broken up to facilitate the printing of parallel translation.

Section 1: The Pyrker songs date from Schubert's spectacularly successful holiday with the singer Vogl in Upper Austria in the summer of 1825. There is no doubt that the composer wanted to make something epic of them (the other is Die Allmacht D852) in homage to a poet who was an important member of the establishment and someone whom he also greatly admired. Schubert's mind must have been full of the great C major Symphony, a work which it is now generally accepted he wrote at this time. Das Heimweh has a long introduction, symphonic in scope, and it uses motifs that suggest gritty symphonic development. The dotted rhythms of dogged determination (in the manner of the earlier Schiller setting Der Kampf), the pathetic falling sequences of the introduction (a device reminiscent of the other Das Heimweh) and the wilting chromatic harmonies of anguish (the plaintive 'so welkt er' for example) combine to paint a bleak but powerful picture. The singer finds himself in an emotionally arid place, and this is confirmed by the Spartan two-part harmony where the voice line is doubled by the piano. Some of the other harmonic implications are nearer to home. Austrians considered themselves part of the greater Germany in Schubert's day. The use of the augmented sixth known as 'German' (first beat of bars 3 and 4 and passim) is a brilliant musical pun: it tells us wordlessly, again and again, the name of the land for which the singer obsessively pines.

Section 2: A single bar of six staccato triplets and two crotchets followed by a fermata on the bar line introduces the relative major. There is scarcely a more effective use of this time-honoured change in all Schubert. The change of camera angle (powerfully suggesting flashback technique in the cinema) is unarguably transporting; it allows us to look into the singer's past and homeland. At 'Stets sieht er die trauliche Hütte' the music takes on a tenderness as melting as the opening has been uncompromisingly harsh. The pianist provides triplets almost as potently beguiling as those of Ganymed at 'Dass ich dich fassen möcht'; a tiny bell rung in his right hand resounds through the valley. We have moved gently and whimsically from B flat to G to D and then to F. The move to the dominant of F minor at 'Sieht das dunkele Föhrengehölz' signals bigger thoughts and images: as it gathers power, the song reveals its relationship to its sibling work, Die Allmacht, and the camera pans out on the awe-inspiring splendours of nature which were surrounding and amazing the composer as he was writing this song. There is a sense of mountain-conquering momentum as we climb over the flats of this scenery to emerge triumphant astride five sharps on 'aufgetürmt'. This stentorian B major also reveals its lyrical side; after 'im Rosenschimmer des Abends' we hear the prelude theme translated momentarily into this key. We move to G major via B minor as the singer muses over, and repeats, the words. Schubert even throws in his own repeat of 'ach die trauliche Hütte' which he thus permits to glow in the rosy light of evening in the shadow of the mountains. We grope our way over a misterioso bridge passage ('verdunkelt is alles') which takes us through a dark and precarious mountain pass; our destination is another hidden copse of the memory.

Section 3: We emerge into G major sunlight, to our ears more inspired by Heidi than Haydn: we can almost see the flaxen-headed milkmaid, as well as hear her, and we can smell the country air. Schubert the city slicker allows himself to be amused by the yokel and yodel. In an unique touch of Schubertian farmyard onomatopoeia, the left hand moos on an ascending sixth (a good German cow, the harmony tells us) and even this comic gesture adds to the sense of the song's motival unity where so much is based on this harmonic feature. As in Drang in die Ferne we are given a glimpse of Schubert the composer of dance music—a crazy little Ländler in the pianist's right hand adds to the sense of wild rejoicing as the singer clutches at the straws of fantasy and memory. The bounce of the music is not unlike that for Die Post in Winterreise where joyful feelings are also momentarily aroused by the sound of distant music. A short interlude winds us down ('Die Post … bringt keinen Brief für dich' comes to mind) and prepares us for the return to G minor.

Section 4: There is a skilful sense of recapitulation here; the motifs are the same, but the harmonic movement is completely different because the homesick youth is no longer content to languish. This is the music of struggle and an attempt to break away from the shackles. The music tells us that this is futile; twice it breaks out briefly and passionately into remote keys only to be pulled back into the doleful reality of G minor. The final 'unwiderstehlicher Sehnsucht' has the poignancy of a solo violin line; the culminative effect of this song is of a piece of symphonic or chamber music and the first movement of the String Quintet come powerfully to mind. (Even more powerful pre-echoes of this work occur in Die Allmacht.) This 'larger than Lied' quality is precisely what Schubert had in mind to do honour to a poet whose reputation for saintliness rendered him, and his achievements as Patriarch of Venice, larger than life. This appointment from the Emperor took Pyrker away from his native mountains except for occasional holidays. It seems that the text is autobiographical and Schubert knew it. Fischer-Dieskau (following Deutsch) avers that Pyrker wrote Das Heimweh especially for the composer; John Reed counters this with the reasonable argument that as the poem dates from 1819 this could not be so. The truth is probably that Das Heimweh was written out especially for Schubert. The lines come from a much longer epic poem entitled Tunisias (the sixth canto, lines 607-623) and it is probable that Pyrker selected something from his own already-published works which reflected his mood at the time and which he wished to have set to music. He then made the composer a gift of an autograph specially prepared for that purpose. As Schubert first saw it the poem rather resembled a bleeding chunk of verse—seventeen lines of lofty hexameters:

Ach, der Gebirgssohn hängt mit kindlicher Lieb' an der Heimat,
Wie, den Alpen geraubt, hinwelkt die Blume, so welkt er,
Ihr entrissen, dahin. Stets sieht er die trauliche Hütte
Die ihn gebar, im hellen Grün umduftender Matten,
Sieht das dunkele Föhrengehölz, die ragende Felswand
Über ihm, und noch Berg' auf Berg in erschütternder Hoheit
Aufgetürmt und glühend im Rosenschimmer des Abends … etc

There are two versions of Das Heimweh, and the first is substantially different from the second precisely because the best way to make a musical structure of this poem was not clear to the composer at first. It is as if Schubert were a sculptor searching for a way to release the images trapped within a block of marble. The first version has only three movements; there is no recapitulation in the tonic (Verse 4, above) and the third section ('Geschwind') incorporates all the remaining words of the poem, sung at a spanking pace, with only a tiny piano coda at the end which returns to the opening theme. When Schubert realised that this was not the right shape for the work he completely recast the final section and inserted a substantial new movement—Tempo I in the tonic key—beginning with the words 'Ihn fesselt der lachenden Ebnen Anmut nicht'. This created a convincing ABCA form with a weight and depth of feeling appropriate to 'unwiderstehlicher Sehnsucht'. Strophes are a Schubertian unit, a demarcation of melody, and first encountering this poem he was momentarily lost without them. The first version of Das Heimweh, more durchkomponiert than strophic, was inconclusive and ineffectual. The work needed a peroration, indeed a moral, and Schubert drew on his experience with the varied strophic song to make a structure that contained a convincing recapitulation—a type of sonata form of song.

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 12 on CDJ33018 [7'26] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 8 on CDS44201/40 CD30 [7'26] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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