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Die Herbstnacht, D404

First line:
Mit leisen Harfentönen
March 1816; first published in 1885
author of text

The poet's title was Die Wehmuth—'Melancholy' (so in Mandyczewski's Gesamtausgabe) but Schubert's own title is Die Herbstnacht. The shape of the vocal line, built on the tonic triad, is very reminiscent of Die Einsiedelei; it is as if the composer is consciously trying to create a type of folksong style appropriate to this particular poet. Even if the music on this single page is not as memorable as that of Der Herbstabend (in the same key of F major, and also with triplet accompaniment) there are nevertheless a number of delicious harmonic touches that only Schubert could have supplied. A small example is the setting of 'Wehmuth' in the poem's first line; in the context of a tune in the major key, the second syllable of that one sad word is effortlessly limned in the minor without disturbing the generally genial equilibrium of the whole. A similar effect comes at the end of the first verse when 'auf des Schicksals Bahn' gently touches the minor as a warning as to what fate might have in store for us. It is entirely characteristic of the composer that he should be so minutely concerned to respond to tiny fluctuations in the text's mood in this manner. Also typically Schubertian is the modulation from F major into A flat major at the phrase 'der Thränen geweihten Quell verschliesst!' Capell cites this particular modulation as evidence of the composer's 'gift of musical epigram'. It certainly helps to suggest a lift to a new threshold of experience as the nymph is addressed.

The salute in this poem to Hölty and to Matthisson places its Swiss creator Salis-Seewis in his correct historical context. Salis's poems were published in 1794 under the wing of Matthisson, as it were, who wrote an introduction to the edition. He shared Matthisson's preoccupation with classical metre and antique poetic forms. Before embracing a literary profession, Salis had been a soldier, a member of the Swiss Guard Regiment at Versailles and thus a first-hand observer of the fall of Louis XVI and the French aristocracy. He travelled to Weimar and met there Wieland, Herder, Schiller and Goethe. Salis-Seewis, who spent most of his life in his native Switzerland, stands outside the mainstream of German literature despite his gift for friendship and regular correspondence with his contemporaries like Matthisson. His elegant and restrained verse appealed to Schubert who set ten of his poems, some of them in two or three versions. Although the composer set this poet as early as 1815, and as late as 1821, the majority of the songs date from 1816, and particularly from March of that year. It seemed that Schubert was particularly attracted to Salis in his lighthearted folksong mood, but he also responds well to the streak of melancholy which subtly insinuates itself into the work. Verse of this kind must have made a welcome change and relaxation from the blood-and-thunder writing of Schiller with which the composer also busied himself in March 1816.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


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CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
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Track 7 on CDJ33017 [2'26] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD13 [2'26] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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