Welcome to Hyperion Records, an independent British classical label devoted to presenting high-quality recordings of music of all styles and from all periods from the twelfth century to the twenty-first.

Hyperion offers both CDs, and downloads in a number of formats. The site is also available in several languages.

Please use the dropdown buttons to set your preferred options, or use the checkbox to accept the defaults.

Lied des Orpheus, als er in die Hölle ging, D474

First line:
Wälze dich hinweg, du wildes Feuer!
September 1816; first published in 1832 in volume 19 of the Nachlass
author of text

When the two volumes of Jacobi's poems came hot off the press in their first Viennese edition in 1816 (probably passed on to Schubert by one of his literary friends) the composer was inspired to make his first attempt at a single poet mini-cycle (the five songs of D462-466, Volume 8). He was also more than ready to put his own gloss on the Orpheus legend, for the theme was thoroughly familiar to him. The connection with Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice is obvious enough. Schubert knew the score through Salieri, and during his time as a student at the Imperial Seminary he had once performed the scene in Hades from memory. What is rather less obvious is the influence of Mozart; as Eric Sams has shown (Musical Times, November 1978) this is one of the 1816 songs which show the direct influence of that master, and of Die Zauberflöte in particular. To prove this we need go no further than the introduction to Lied des Orpheus, a flourish of six bars in the key of G flat which sets up the hero's command to the fires of hell to roll back: he has come to rescue his Eurydice. Let us transfer our gaze to the finale of the first act of Die Zauberflöte and Prince Tamino who, like Orpheus, is a tamer of beasts through the magic of music, and has come to rescue his bride. The offstage voices sing 'Zurück!' rather than Jacobi's nearly synonymous 'Hinweg', and in response (do not be fooled by the difference in dynamic between Schubert's fortissimo on the piano, and Mozart's softer-grained strings) the musical substance is nearly the same: downward arpeggii in groups of four staccato crotchets and the punctuation of loud chords which rebuff the efforts of Orpheus/Tamino to enter Hades. Even the trills that launch this figure (starting on F sharp in Mozart, G flat in Schubert) are of the same length. This what may be called enharmonic imitation is less plagiarism than hero-worship. Mozart's responses to words had become for Schubert a private creed, a new mythology of allusion. He was so steeped in this that he uses Mozartian quotation, in apposite places, as unselfconsciously as stringing together original sentences in a real language. This was also the period when Schubert was forced to realise that his love for Therese Grob (an affection which went back to 1814) was impractical and hopeless. It is not hard to see him casting himself in the heroic role of Orpheus/Tamino and travelling (musically) to the ends of the earth to somehow save the imperilled relationship.

Verses 1-2: The whole work has a ceremonial air of a state occasion, a type of highly-costumed operatic approach which we find more in the Schiller settings for example, than in the more inward Goethe works. This is a magnificent recitative in a theatrically grand manner. It gains a thrilling edge sung by a woman, not least because our ears link the character of Orfeo with the mezzo-soprano voice. In the second verse, tuning his instrument while threatening the shadows, Orpheus turns the lyre's pegs, in gradations of rising semitones, from D flat major up to E.

Verses 3-6: This takes us to the dominant of the key of A for the central panel of the work, the set piece where Orpheus shows his mettle. Schubert wrote all the Harper's songs (from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister) in the same tonality and in the same month; the lyre-playing Orpheus is both historical antecedent and musical contemporary of the old minstrel who has also lost his love. The music is full of stagily beguiling coloratura. The beginning of Verse 5 (the dovetailing, mingled echoes between voice and piano 'Meine Klage tönt in eure Klage') marks the beginning of the differences between the first and second versions of the piece. As if by magical metamorphosis Orpheus turns into a tenor in the first version, and high As are demanded as readily as the low A flat of the introduction. One can understand that Schubert imagined that the mythical powers of Orpheus, most gifted of singers, would not be taxed by the range of more than two octaves. Fortunately, he soon realised that he, if not his leading man, lived in the real world, and brought the second version into the middle voice range we hear on this disc. The hushed piano interlude after Verse 6, where Orpheus's protestations cease in favour of lyrical, wordless sequences, is among the loveliest moments in the piece.

Verses 7-8: And the interlude produces its required effect. As soon Orpheus sees his first tears he knows he has won. And here we revert to the majestic feel of Gluck and the motor rhythm of magisterial quavers in classical mould, triumphant and exhilarating. The stage finale music of Verse 8 is prophetic of the music of the closing section of the Schiller Sehnsucht (D636, 1821, Volume 1). As always with Schubert, there are musical similarities to be traced when the poetic images are similar. The 'selige Gefilde' of this poem and Schiller's 'schöne Wunderland' are related territories of mythological imaginings. Here the physical distance between night and the Elysian fields in the vocal line is a minor ninth. Schubert shows something of the same delight in sudden changes between the Stygian depths of the chest register and the heaven of the head voice in that other ballad from the Underworld from a few months earlier, Klage der Ceres (D323, Volume 5).

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. 11 - Brigitte Fassbaender
CDJ33011Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 12 on CDJ33011 [4'30] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 22 on CDS44201/40 CD15 [4'30] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

Track-specific metadata

Click track numbers above to select
Waiting for content to load...
Waiting for content to load...