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Dem Unendlichen, D291 First version

First line:
Wie erhebt sich das Herz, wenn es dich
published in 1895
author of text

Klopstock has inspired Schubert to the music of oratory and rhetoric. It is no surprise that one of the poet's earliest influences was Milton, for there is a late seventeenth-century extravagance to the words. Although Schubert could not have known any English music other than Handel, it is the Purcell of Lord, what is man? who comes to mind more than the earlier composers of Lieder. There is certainly nothing like this song in Gluck's settings of Klopstock; Beethoven's Gellert Lieder also require a mighty voice but the piano parts are severe and not at all flamboyant. Perhaps only some of the songs of C P E Bach suggest a similar mixture of piety and theatre. The song is in almost every sense orchestral (with its mention of harps and trumpets) and Schubert clearly aims to transcend the limitations of the piano. After the double-dotted fanfares of the opening, a magnificent recitative, one of Schubert's finest, addresses the Creator. We choose to perform here the third version of the song, which almost certainly represents Schubert's final intentions, and which, unlike the version usually sung from the Peters Edition, begins in G rather than F major. This preserves Schubert's favourite relationship between the tonic and the flattened sixth of the cantilena (Verse 3) in E flat. The following soaring long-limbed tune over rippling harps in the piano pre-echoes the dying minstrel's song to nature in Nachtstück. The effect of the whole is magisterial and noble. Is it possible that this thundering masterpiece was written as early as 1815, five months before Morgenlied? We are like bewildered playgoers who find ourselves in a theatre where different repertory is performed nightly in a confusing range of styles, and its managing genius delights in confounding our chronological expectations. There are astonishing new productions, but also revivals of old ones, unashamed borrowings between the two, brilliant improvisation, artistic amour-propre and a desire to promote what is truthful and good, balanced by a healthy desire to please and entertain the public. I speak of Schubert's song theatre of no fixed abode, but I could just as well cite Shakespeare's Globe. Instead of contesting the authorship of certain early plays like Edward III, which seems to show unmistakable touches of the master's hand, Shakespeare pundits could learn, as Schubertians have had to accept, that it is consistent with genius that semi-precious and even flawed stones should be found among the perfectly cut and polished diamonds of the apprentice jeweller's bench: perfection without experiment and failure is simply not how young genius develops and grows. If Schubert had been an inadequately documented sixteenth-century figure, the authorship of his early songs, Klage der Ceres for example, would be contested too. The mature master of Die Allmacht can easily be discerned in Dem Unendlichen, but the dedicated Schubertian is no longer ashamed to acknowledge the same hand also authentically at work in Täglich zu singen and Morgenlied.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 5 - Elizabeth Connell
CDJ33005Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 14 on CDJ33005 [4'39] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 12 on CDS44201/40 CD10 [4'39] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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