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Willkommen und Abschied, D767 First version

First line:
Es schlug mein Herz, geschwind zu Pferde!
December 1822; published in this version 1895, in the C major version in 1826 as Op 56 No 1
author of text

Goethe wrote this poem in 1771 at the time he was courting Friederike Brion in Sesenheim, a horse-ride away from where he was studying at the University of Strasburg. There he sat at the feet of the celebrated Johann Gottfried Herder, who opened his eyes to the simplicity and power of folksong, and the plays of Shakespeare. The freshness of the young Goethe's love affair thus coincided with a new type of lyric which came from the heart, unburdened by the poetic formalities of an earlier age. Schubert mirrors the excitement and ardour with one of his set piece horse rides, not quite as successful and substantial as Auf der Bruck and An Schwager Kronos, but something of a companion for that other night journey, Erlkönig (Volume 7). There is a moment in this song when the whistling wind seems about to introduce itself as a spectre, but here love conquers all, and the more sinister exigencies of the journey fade into the background as the poet dreams of his beloved in the third verse. This provides something of a problem for the composer who has committed himself to the rhythm of canter and gallop, and the pianist has to keep the journey going but without the demonic energy of the opening. The rider seems to rein his horse to a standstill only at the thought that this overwhelming happiness is undeserved—a momentary pang of guilt perhaps? Schubert knew (as did all Germans who were well versed in the legends of Goethe's romantic life) that in due course the poet was to abandon Friederike; Goethe was similarly to extricate himself nimbly from almost all his romantic relationships. Schubert, certainly disappointed by the poet's lack of response to all attempts to contact him, was all but finished with Goethe; this was his second-last Goethe setting, apart from one last return in 1826 to the Wilhelm Meister lyrics which haunted him throughout his life. Although it must be admitted that the broad brush-strokes of Willkommen und Abschied fail to pick out many of the changing details of the picture, Schubert has matched the poet's reckless passion with an Italianate sweep. 1822 was the year of Italian domination of the opera house in Vienna (see notes to the comic parody aria Herrn Josef von Spaun, Volume 4) and it seems that Schubert took some measures to attempt to appeal to the prevailing taste. Not only is the vocal line of an Italianate caste (particularly on the final page when the peroration achieves an intensity which despite itself owes much to the final page of Gluck's 'Che far• senza Euridice') but when the song was prepared for publication in 1826, Nicolaus Craigher de Jachelutta was commissioned to provide an Italian singing translation of the poem. Goethe's title thus becomes Felice Arrivo e Congedo and the first line runs 'Mi batte 'l cor! a la! il destriero!' For this edition the work was also tranposed from its original key of D to C major, thus bringing it within the capabilities of a high baritone. We have reverted to the original version for this performance because Schubert obviously thought of it at first as a tenor piece. There is no very great difference between the two versions, the biggest change in the C major edition being a more protracted setting of the word 'doch' in the second-last line of the poem. Performances of this song are often bedevilled by a marking of 'etwas langsamer' on the lines 'Ich ging, du standst und sahst zur Erden'. It can seem as if the horse has suddenly gone lame! The total absence of an indication for this change of speed in the original D major version shows that it is not an essential part of the song's construction. It was merely meant to be a gentle warning to over-heated performers that the words must be allowed to have their ungabbled due; a change to half speed here ruins the architecture of the song.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990


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