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Schubert was quite used to brandishing his fist in Beethovenian manner and it would be wrong to suppose that Sturm and Drang was uncongenial to him. One thinks of songs like Selige Welt and Der Schiffer (both containing nautical imagery to be found in the last of Schulze's verses here) as well as Aus Heliopolis II which have demonic energy and vehemence. These works have a political significance, an angry response to injustice and repression in an unfair society. There were times when he needed to shout and hammer and bristle, the dark reverse of the familiar coin of empathy, understanding and gentleness which is the established Schubertian currency of world-wide acceptance. Nor was this merely a product of his 'angry young man' phase. In 1828 he composed another Lebensmut (the poet was Rellstab) also in B flat. This unfinished song poses great vocal and pianistic demands, and it aims for an even wilder atmosphere than its Schulze namesake. There are also passages in the last piano sonatas which show that the composer, at the end of his life, still has a taste for musical rhetoric and the grand defiant gesture. One need look no further for these things than in some of the songs of Schwanengesang.
This song, however, whistles at the wind with a great deal of bluster, and ultimately no great substance. Following the poet's example, the composer makes singer and pianist put on a valiant show, but to no avail. If the pathos of Im Frühling is echoed in Frühlingstraum from Winterreise, Lebensmuth finds its parallel in the sudden outburst of energy in Mut, very late in the same cycle, which alters the traveller's outlook and fate not an iota but shows us that depression, at its black heart a listless and apathetic thing, can rear its ugly head in different guises and at varying speeds. These include, as in Lebensmut, the brightest of forced smiles in the major key; the manic depressive suffers from a sort of happiness despite himself, where his laughter and high spirits take on a tinny and unrealistic note. This knowledge renders Lebensmut hellishly sad; indeed Susan Youens has remarked that the song's prelude is reminiscent of Orpheus's descent into the Underworld at the opening of Lied des Orpheus. There are five verses in the song: 1 = 2 = 4 = 5. Verse 3 is a variant in the tonic minor; the weighty words of confessional insight here are given short shrift, as if the poet is describing someone else's feelings. A dilemma, by now familiar, faces us when considering Schubert's response to some of the texts in this cycle; either he has not understood the words well enough, or only too well. The thundery interludes grind forward mirthlessly, their jolting patterns more banal than they seem at first hearing. At various points they seem to promise modulations and relief from the poet's harping on one string, but once again we find ourselves caught in a pattern as repetitive and compulsive as Schulze's.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993
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