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Der Pilgrim, D794

First line:
Noch in meines Lebens Lenze
May 1823; published in 1825 as Op 37 No 1
author of text

This is the second last of the Schiller songs. (The last, Dithyrambe, Volume 11, is considerably less serious.) It stands next to the great song cycle Die schöne Müllerin in the Deutsch catalogue and was composed at the time of the diagnosis of Schubert's illness. At first glance the two works may seem to be strange bedfellows, but they share a number of characteristics apart from being the products of a genius at the height of its powers. Common themes are: journeying forth in the springtime of life (both the miller boy and the pilgrim are walking towards a new destiny); water music (admittedly of different kinds) and, despite the happiest of beginnings, the ultimate defeat of idealism and hope at the end of both single song and cycle. The composer's view of the world has changed somewhat since his early Schiller settings.

Verses 1-4: The song is made up of an ingeniuous chain of related melodies reminiscent of the St Antony Chorale immortalised by Brahms. It is cleverly constructed to incorporate elements of the strophic song, and to suggest thereby homespun simplicity and goodness. But the hand of the composer is ever present to modify and re-direct; what appears at first to be simple is shown to be infinitely subtle. The first section, four verses long, establishes the traveller's good-hearted optimism and his background. The pilgrims' chorale is taken at a measured pace, but it cannot be too slow. The song has probably not found many advocates because it is all too easy to make it elegiac; without a bracing Ímpetus behind it (two, not four in a bar) the music seems interminable and heavy. Verses 1 and 3 are musically identical, and so are verses 2 and 4. There are strong pre-echoes of Leitner's Der Kreuzzug D932, in mood and tonality (D major) rather than in tempo. The song of the monk is contemplative as he watches from his cell as the crusade sets out, but there is little doubt that this pilgrim, like Bunyan's, is a man of action. His is a song of the open road.

Verses 5-6: The second part of the song's three-part structure throws obstacles in the path of pilgrim's progress and performer's peace of mind. Their journey is relentlessly driven ('nimmer nimmer stand ich still') by a hopeless quest for the Golden Gate linking earth and heaven. Verse 5 is relatively simple tonally, but at Verse 6 a complex harmonic terrain makes the going tough. The section beginning 'Berge lagen mir im Wege' brings a dazzling sequence of modulations which happen so quickly that the keyboard is as dangerous a place to be as the mountaineer's slippery rock face. We emerge from the chromatic crevasse with an imposing modulation into a more settled F major—more settled at least from the point of view of harmony, if not movement.

Verses 7-8: Quavers replace crotchets in the accompaniment and announce water music, first a gentle stream, which being a relatively simple natural phenomenon repeats the tune (transposed into F major) of Verses 1 and 3. As the river falls to the great sea (Verse 8), left hand broken octaves plunge to the bottom of the keyboard. The beginning of this verse uses the vocal line we have already heard at the beginning of Verse 5 transposed a minor third higher. In this way Schubert knits the structure, a cat's cradle of ingenuity which weaves contrasting melodic strands together in the manner of a rondo. On closer examination this proves to be nothing of the sort—a mirage. The awful realisation that the journey has all been in vain ('Näher bin ich nicht dem Ziel') stops the traveller in his tracks. He sings the words twice as if he can scarcely believe that all his hopes have been utterly betrayed. (9) The music, now in the key of B, the relative minor of the song's opening D major, is searing in its intensity. The tempo is suddenly Sehr langsam, and the words 'There is never Here' are pronounced as if from on high, a heavy sentence against which there is no appeal. The final 'ist niemals hier' where the third of the scale is sharpened to suggest the major key, is almost triumphant. There is a fierce joy, perhaps even a madness, in facing reality bravely, even recklessly. The final whiplash piano chord (now unequivocally in the minor) closes all exploration with cruel finality. The dotted rhythms of this eloquent page are extremely reminiscent of the final verse of Der Unglückliche (also in D major - B minor) from 1821 (Volume 15).

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1993


Schubert: Der Wanderer & other songs
Studio Master: CDA68010Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 1 - Janet Baker
CDJ33001Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 16 - Thomas Allen


Track 16 on CDA68010 [4'38]
Track 18 on CDJ33001 [4'34] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 15 on CDJ33016 [4'21]
Track 6 on CDS44201/40 CD27 [4'21] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDS44201/40 disc 27 track 6

Recording date
13 May 1992
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Mark Brown
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Robert Menzies
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 27 Track 6
    Release date: October 2005
    Deletion date: July 2021
    Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
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