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Über Wildemann, D884

First line:
Die Winde sausen am Tannenhang
March 1826; published posthumously in January 1829 as Op 108 No 1
author of text
from the Poetisches Tagebuch

Schulze's title for this poem is a long-winded one, but it is helpful too: 'Overlooking Wildemann: a small town in the Harz mountains, 28 April 1816.' We can immediately piece together the picture: at this time of year spring has already arrived in the valleys, but up in the mountains winter still holds sway. The poet stands looking down towards where the hope of a new season blossoms; he is conscious of a two-tiered existence where spring and winter are fighting for ascendancy, a metaphor for the conflict in his own mind. The path towards vernal fulfilment is blocked to him. The beautiful valley is Utopian fantasy; the winter landscape of his soul will prevail whatever the season in the world of nature.

It is possible that Schubert himself might have thought of Im Frühling, Lebensmut and Über Wildemann as a triptych showing different faces of spring remembered or anticipated. The wild mood swings between these three songs, almost certainly composed within days, if not hours, of each other (and here presented in the order found in the Deutsch catalogue) suggest the same organisational hand that made the Winterreise sequence more than the sum of its parts. Schubert takes on the contrasts and inconsistencies of the poet's moods with undisguised relish. Über Wildemann was probably the last of the Schulze songs to be composed and we can almost hear the composer sharpening his pencil, impatient for an encounter with another similarly absorbing and complex character. Schubert's musical responses to the overlay of winter and madness in this song show that he was already preparing the way for the winter traveller. Susan Youens has pointed out a number of these similarities, prophetic of the later cycle. Über Wildemann shares the tonality of Gute Nacht; it contains the alternation between unison texture and fuller harmonisation of Die Wetterfahne; it prefigures the incessant, restless motion of Erstarrung, as well as the winter tempests which shake the reverie of Der Lindenbaum, and it recalls the rhythmical monomania of Rückblick. A similar disposition of the accompaniment between the hands is heard in Die Krähe at the vocal climax of that song ('Treue bis zum Grabe'); the voice and piano in Über Wildemann reinforce one another for added stark strength as in Der stürmisches Morgen—and so on. Maurice Brown has pointed out that a passage modelled on Über Wildemann appears (in C sharp minor) in the last movement of another masterpiece of 1826, the G major String Quartet D887.

In Verse 1 there is a lack of harmony in every sense. Coming hard on the heels of Lebensmut in this sequence, the introduction emphasises how truly hollow were those high spirits. A succession of hard-driven unisons is devoid of softening inner harmonies; the left hand pursues the right, always a quaver rest apart, with the tenacity of an animal chasing its own tail. Schubert has stripped Schulze of his bravado and now shows him bare and exposed in every sense. Jagged accents on the fourth beats of the bar create an impression of blind panic; there is no trusty steed here, the poet is alone with the elements and the music suggests not only the howling of wind and the rushing of streams, but a deranged person running hither and thither in search of his own shadow. A vivid impression of climbing up and down is given with the wide intervals in the vocal line throughout the song. The third and fourth lines of the verse are set twice, and 'von Höh' zu Höh' ('from peak to peak') is sung yet again, three times in all; the notes for these four words seem to trace the jagged outline of a mountain range on the stave.

Verses 2 and 3 have different music entirely which moves into the somewhat warmer regions of D major as life in the valley below is contemplated for a moment and summarily dismissed. In Verse 2 the singer rushes through the words, and there are none of the repetitions that have characterised the opening strophe; at the end of Verse 3 mention of the beloved, the 'one creature who closes her heart', prompts an anguished repeat of 'nur Eine ihr Herz verschliesst'. Verse 4 (the moment when the word 'love' is repeated in pathetic distress) is marked off as a separate and isolated moment—this is the heart of the work which the song's creator allows to beat for only a few moments—the better to highlight the icy body of music and madness which surrounds it. The 'shoots from tree and bush' put forth their flowers, and the harmonies blossom accordingly, coaxed into life as more of the inner fingers of the pianist's right hand warm into life. The key of A major prompts yet another comparison with a song from Winterreise, and another hopeless evocation of springtime happiness, Frühlingstraum. The music for Verse 5 is then more or less a repeat of the opening verse. This technique of using matching strophic bookends to contain the inner substance of a song is used elsewhere in the settings from the Poetisches Tagebuch, and for the same purpose: the depiction of energy which can achieve nothing, stunted as it is by the immovable limits of the poet's own psyche. The bewildered Schulze (never madder than here) is caught and immobilised like an insect in the web of his 'dark imaginings'; the confines of Schubert's strophic reformatory (where song form is groomed for a new and more useful life) are where his fate has found its only enduring musical metaphor.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


Schubert: The Complete Songs
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CDJ33018Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 21 on CDJ33018 [2'11] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 7 on CDS44201/40 CD32 [2'11] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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