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Sehnsucht, D123

First line:
Was zieht mir das Herz so?
published in 1842 in volume 37 of the Nachlass
author of text

Between An Laura and this song, Schubert had written Gretchen am Spinnrade on 19 October 1814. A lesser composer, once he had found a seam of gold, would have attempted to continue to mine it. But with Schubert's response to texts, there is never a formula, much less a winning one; even the name Goethe was not the 'Open, Sesame' to stockpile of flawless jewels. It so happened that Schubert had found the perfect solution to the problem of how to weave Gretchen, her predicament and her spinning wheel into a seamless unity. With other poems he was less lucky. His failures are always honourable (to call them failures at all is only to judge them by the standards of the acknowledged masterpieces) and it is always interesting to see what he was aiming at as, in Capell's words, 'he hesitated, he experimented, he fumbled.' It is well known that Goethe mistrusted composers who would allow their musical fancies to detract from his poems. This setting of Sehnsucht is a demonstration of what Goethe feared most about music's power to submerge his lyrics, and it is significant that it was not included in the consignments of songs later sent to the poet in an effort to interest him in Schubert's Lieder.

When Schubert makes a recitative out of Matthisson's Trost. An Elisa, few would bemoan the fact that stilted classical metre has been swept aside in favour of 'staging' the poem effectively. But when the lively, breathless, culminative impact of Goethe's anapaestic rhythm for Sehnsucht is vitiated by Schubert's stop-go alternation between recitative, aria and piano interlude, there is valid cause for complaint. This is a text which Beethoven surely got right in his setting of 1810, and Schubert seems to have gone to great lengths to try something different. It may be that Schubert simply found the internal rhythm of the poem too relentless for comfortable musical expression, and was doing his best to take some of the wind out of its sails; it has a type of passionate bluster which is more of a Beethovenian than a Schubertian phenomenon. It also cannot be denied that some of Schubert's pictures and episodes within the song are charmingly done: the swift flight of the ravens in verse 2, and the corresponding music for the flowing brook in the second half of Verse 4 give some intimation of how the song may have been set as an enchanting moto perpetuo. The interlude for the singing bird (Verse 3) is in some ways admirable (the poem after all mentions lingering and listening, and we are made to do both), but its music-box effect adds an arch touch of eighteenth-century bergerette to what is in fact a tempestuously romantic poem. The interlude for the setting sun (an image more charmingly and economically handled in Adelaide) kills stone dead any culminative rhythmic impetus the piece may have had, yet the poet's shining star is made to reverberate in empty space with the simplest and most telling of musical means. Also excellent is the depiction of astonishment in the last verse—it is a fragment of a slow waltz, and the gradual return to the rumbustious tempo which closes the piece with the poet throwing himself at his beloved's feet in a precipitous downward scale. But there is just too much lavish musical detail throughout the song to enable Goethe's poem to achieve the inevitable onrushing sweep which its metre demands.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 12 - Adrian Thompson
CDJ33012Last few CD copies remaining


Track 18 on CDJ33012 [3'17] Last few CD copies remaining
Track 10 on CDS44201/40 CD4 [3'17] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

Track-specific metadata for CDS44201/40 disc 4 track 10

Recording date
28 February 1991
Recording venue
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Martin Compton
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 12 - Adrian Thompson (CDJ33012)
    Disc 1 Track 18
    Release date: November 1991
    Last few CD copies remaining
  2. Schubert: The Complete Songs (CDS44201/40)
    Disc 4 Track 10
    Release date: October 2005
    Deletion date: July 2021
    Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
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