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Epistel 'An Herrn Josef von Spaun, Assessor in Linz' 'Musikalischer Schwank', D749

First line:
Und nimmer schreibst du?
January 1822; published in 1850
author of text

This piece preserves the pranks and camaraderie of the Schubert circle in a unique way. Joseph von Spaun, Schubert's oldest and most faithful friend, had left Vienna in September 1821 to take up the post of Assessor at the Upper Austrian Excise Revenue Office. Schubert wrote to him in November 1821, but did not receive a reply. Matthäus von Collin, Spaun's cousin, wrote a poem parodying the dramatic manner appropriate to tragic betrayal. This gave Schubert the ideal opportunity to imitate the all-pervasive style of Italian opera which was however still performed in German translation in Vienna.

One has to admit that Schubert lacked the malicious wit and cynicism to write a biting parody or even a genuine comic song (how easily this comes to the mordant sensibilities of Hugo Wolf). Perhaps Capell is right when he says that Schubert possessed nothing nearer to humour than good humour, and perhaps this lack of worldly wit and opportunism was his Achilles' heel when it came to success in the opera house. Schubert loved music almost too much to joke about it, and he could not help admiring Rossini's work. Sarcasm and loathing, the trademarks of the real parodist, were foreign to him. In the month that this piece was written, the main musical talking-point in Vienna was the takeover of the Kärntnertor Theatre by the Italian impresario Domenico Barbaja. The consequent ascendancy of Italian opera thus ruined Schubert's hopes of success in the opera house; German opera was a dead duck in this period. The singer Vogl resigned from the Court Opera and many of Schubert's friends were dismissed by the new régime. Could it be that the 'Epistel' served a twofold purpose in providing Spaun with a wry comment on the way musical life in Vienna was threatened? Above all, Spaun must have relished the exaggerated setting of 'Barbar'; to Schubert's friends this Barbar(ja) was nothing more than a pirate of the high Cs. If there is anger here it is not at Spaun or Rossini, but at the unfair turn of events. Schubert the chameleon changes his national colours despite himself and ends up by paying genuine homage (with an affectionate smile) to the flair and vigour of music from the south.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1989


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CDS44201/4040CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Last few CD copies remaining
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Track 15 on CDJ33004 [4'46] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 8 on CDS44201/40 CD25 [4'46] 40CDs Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Last few CD copies remaining

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