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Das Marienbild, D623

First line:
Sei gegrüsst, du Frau der Huld
August 1818; first published in 1831 in volume 10 of the Nachlass
author of text

This is one of four Schreiber settings from 1818, the first of which, An den Mond in einer Herbstnacht is one of the neglected masterpieces of the Schubert canon. It seems that the composer discovered a volume of Schreiber's poetry in the spring of that year (the poems had been published in 1817) and had taken it with him to Zseliz where he took up residence in July as music master to the children of Count Esterházy. Das Marienbild is one of two Schreiber songs written in Hungary that summer. John Reed has suggested that they were composed 'by request', as Schubert was 'not at this time in sympathy with orthodox piety.' It is possible that one of his new employers spotted the poem in the Schreiber volume and persuaded Schubert to set it. Another poem featuring Mary was composed in that summer (Blondel zu Marien, D626), but if these Zseliz settings were not a reflection of the composer's own enthusiasm, why should he return to the theme in Vienna with a compelling Stabat Mater in song, Vom Mitleiden Mariä (D632, December 1818) long after the terms of his employment had ended? It seems more likely that Schubert continued to be as interested in Mary-in-music as he had always been. One has simply to look at a list of the works devoted to the Madonna in Schubert's church music: the first of these, a Salve Regina, D27, dates from 1812, then a Salve Regina, D106 (1814), a Stabat Mater, D175, and Salve Regina, D223, both from 1815, the Deutsches Salve Regina, D379, the Stabat Mater, D383, the Salve Regina, D386, the Magnificat, D486 (all four from 1816, the year Schubert admired Abel's picture), the Salve Regina, D676, of 1819 and a last Salve Regina, D811, in 1824.

Unlike the zealots of the Reformation, Schubert had no reason to blame the corruption and bigotry of the church on the worship of images; how could someone with his kind of imagination have been against imagery after all? It was the images which were beautiful and were misused by men to inspire fear rather than love. And Marian resonances went beyond Christian belief. Guided by classically educated friends, and perhaps having visited the museum of antiquities in the Hofburg, Schubert became interested in Greek and Roman mythology. The statues of gods and goddesses were also spiritual ideas turned into image. It might well have been pointed out to the composer that the ancient pagan worship of Venus or Ceres had played a large part in the growth of the Christian veneration (a word which in itself seems to derive from Venus) for the Virgin Mary.

In this song, the simplicity of the forest chapel, no more than an icon set in an oak tree, suggests a pagan shrine; on the other hand, the music for Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren, a heartfelt pagan hymn, would not have been out of place in a church. In Schubert's music Christian and pagan, sacred and profane, are sometimes capable of interchange and reconciliation. The accompaniment is mostly in the rich tenor range of the piano and suggests horn music, the sound one may hear from the distant hunt in the middle of a forest. The tender chromaticisms of the vocal line, which suggest a votary's tentative awe, weave around the unblemished C major tonality, a key which often implies clarity and purity. (Schubert chose this key for the last of his settings of Salve Regina, D811, an unaccompanied work for four men's voices which has much of the mellow mood and tessitura of the accompaniment of Das Marienbild.) The repetition of the last line of each verse leaves the supporting harmony more or less unchanged, but miraculously suggests a two-way exchange between supplicant and goddess, a prayer answered in fact, simply by altering the shape of the vocal line, and bringing it to the fulfilment of the cadence. There is also a courtly quality to this strophic song, which in its simplicity of form and ornamented florid vocal line suggests the art of the troubadour, and the Marian cult of the crusades—a favourite epoch of Schubert's Lieder imaginings. It is also a manifestation of the so-called Nazarene movement in literature and painting. Blondel, Richard the Lion Heart's minstrel, is the protagonist of Schubert's song, Blondel zu Marien, D626 (September 1818) which is even more floridly melismatic. We might be tempted to place the shrine of Das Marienbild in Sherwood Forest, and to cast the aptly named Maid Marian as its singer, were it not the fact that the singer Johan Michael Vogl was only to introduce Schubert years later to Walter Scott's Ivanhoe where Robin Hood plays a part. The vocal lines of both Das Marienbild and Blondel zu Marien hint at Vogl's influence however, inclined as he was to 'improve' Schubert's vocal lines by ornamenting them in the eighteenth-century manner of his youth.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


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