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Ballade, D134

First line:
Ein Fräulein schaut vom hohen Turm
c1815; published in 1830 as Op 126 posth
author of text

This is a companion piece both to Kenner's other ballad Der Liedler and to the Matthisson extravaganza, Romanze, on which Kenner certainly modelled his own story. The Matthisson poem begins 'Ein Fräulein klagt im finstern Turm, am Seegestad erbaut' and a quick glance at the first line of Ballade confirms the earnestly plagiaristic provenance of the poem. Schubert was of course very familiar with this habit of copying a master in order to improve his own art; perhaps he advised Kenner to do the same and take Matthisson as his model.

Section 1: In the beginning it seems that Schubert is quoting from himself on the basis that he is at least as good a model as Zumsteeg. The G minor tonality of Romanze is resummoned, as is the swinging 6/8 of that song's opening. It seems that any mention of an imprisoned maiden in far off lands must bow in the direction of Pedrillo in Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail whose Romanze ('In Mohrenland gefangen war ein Mädchen hübsch und fein') is of course in 6/8. The G minor plaint, accompanied by zither rather than Pedrillo's mandolin, moves to F major, the dominant of the relative major.

Section 2: This extraordinary passage of 28 bars is all built on three chords in the key of B flat and is piano-orchestrated for natural horn. Schubert writes the words 'in the distance' for the pianist, and as the rescuing forces get nearer and louder, the narrator, like some benevolent deus ex machina, assures the maiden that all will be well. Schubert so expertly builds the excitement (in the manner of Rossini's slowly unwinding crescendos) that the enormous cadence back to F major at the moment when her 'saviour' is announced, seems to solve all problems. He jumps to shore ready for action, as the brusque shift to hammered octaves in D major tells us.

Section 3: This is a formal courtly aria that is reminiscent in mood and key of the opening of Der Sänger, and also of passages in the longest of Schubert's ballads Adelwold und Emma (both songs of 1815). This is Schubert in his old-fashioned, knights-and-ladies Gothic vein.

Section 4: The seemly courtesy of this music is suddenly interrupted by the pandemonium of battle music of a weirdly jazzy effect, only comparable to some of the variations in the Arietta of the last of Beethoven's piano sonatas, Op 111, where dotted rhythms suddenly seem to make Vienna swing in crazed anachronism. It would be nice to claim that Schubert was influenced by Beethoven here, but that Sonata was only to be written seven years later. When the waiting heroine is mentioned the music becomes demure and cuts away (film music again comes to mind) to languishing recitative. But then the scene quickly shifts back to the set-piece battle. The noise dies down in ingenious manner as the pianist's fingers limp crab-like to the safety of the bottom of the keyboard.

Section 5: A rather conventional recitative breaks the girl out of her captivity, and in a swirl of skirts, piano scales propel her to the sea shore. There she finds her captor dead (good!) but alas, her 'saviour' is dead also, his pale limbs spread on the bloody battlefield, although we are spared the grisly details of the exact manner of their dispersal.

Section 6: A lesser composer, and even a younger Schubert, would have turned this next verse into tear-drenched recitative, but this music, the most exceptional of this piece, is grandly stoic. Images of a pale body covered with blood, and of a chaste, sin-free maid, summon up in Schubert an altar picture and a miniature Pietà. The word 'saviour' has been used by the poet, and this passion music depicts Christ and the Virgin in unmistakeable fashion. For seven memorable bars the left hand tolls out its spacious notes of mourning, while thirds and sixths, in a manner suggestive of the solemn counterpoint of a former age, weave an old-fashioned spell in E minor, recalling the church music of C P E Bach perhaps, or even that of Graun, sung by Matthisson's beloved Laura.

Section 7: We are woken from this dream by poetry so utterly ludicrous, and attempting to cover so much ground and explanation in so little time, that poor Schubert has little option but to hurry it away in unconvincing recitative. The flight of the treacherous arrow is accompanied by chords rising in semitones; it finds its target on the top of this progression (on 'ihre') and a descending sequence of chords paints her body sinking to the ground. There is then a recapitulation of the 'Passion' music of Verse 6, without a trace of the melodrama and grotesque effect to be found in the earlier Romanze. It is almost as if Schubert, despite himself, has fallen in love with the nameless girl of this unlikely story.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1991


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