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Romanze, D114

First line:
Ein Fräulein klagt’ im finstern Turm
published in 1868
author of text

Verses 1-3: There is something about the insinuating gait of this 6/ 8 rhythm which is entirely appropriate to a story which unfolds in a mood of hushed 'once-upon-a-time'. Although the introduction is very brief it is clear that Schubert thought a lot about it; the first version uses différent inversions of the chord and allows the leading note to rise, which opens out the canvas; the second thoughts lead us harmonically downward and inward, to the breathless confidences of the storyteller and the feeling that dark doings are afoot. The exoticism of the word 'Sarazanenstrand' immediately sets Schubert's mind thinking of Mozart's Entführung aus dem Serail and Pedrillo's Serenade, also in 6/8, and also about a young and beautiful girl imprisoned unjustly. Of course Rosalia von Montanvert is not a prisoner in the land of the Moors (her soldier father has been killed in battle there during a Crusade), but the very sight of Saracens on the printed page is enough to make the composer's stream of inspiration flow in an easterly direction.

Verse 4: Proceedings in 6/ 8 are brought to a halt by the arrival of Captain Hook on to the pantomime stage. The merest mention of Manfry, the dastardly guardian, precursor perhaps of Walter Scott's Templar in Ivanhoe, and of Golo in Schumann's opera Genoveva, prompts a short and brutal passage, four in a bar but in the character of recitative. The key is stili G minor but it is now underpinned by a suspenseful flattened leading note for a villainously unflattenable leading man.

Verses 5-8: The creeping piano semiquavers paint bad news, seeping through the land like blood through a murder victim's clothes. The narrative 6/8 rhythm returns, and an intoned litany, a succession of Ds bemoaning Rosalia's (supposed) death, rise to an E fiat in the vocal line, and the distant key of A fiat. The depiction in the piano of muffled bells tolling through diminished seventh mists is an impressionistic masterstroke. For a recital of how beloved Rosalia was of the people, we move through F minor back to A fiat, where the barcarolle rhythm and key seem a pre-echo of another beautiful girl, Das Fischermädchen from Schwanengesang.

Verse 9: The reappearance of the ominous Ohm disrupts the flow, and of course this is Schubert's intention. The lowering of an empty coffin (for she is condemned to a slow and terrible death walled up in a tower) is most pictorially done, piano doubling voice, the vocal line swinging pendulously from side to side until it settles on the word 'Gruft'.

Verses 10-11: This music is the most originai of the piece. It combines the 6/ 8 movement with the chromatically creeping semiquavers we heard briefly at the beginning of Verse 5. The horror of the mounting realisation of her fate, the claustrophobia, the utter helplessness, are most economically depicted—indeed it is a feature of this ballad that it eschews the grandiose and paints a more powerful yet feminine picture of the victim in so doing. The shudders of fear, like tiny timpani rumbles in the piano's left hand, heighten the grotesque atmosphere as the music journeys inexorably back to its home key.

Verses 12-13: The story is wrapped up in an unsentimental, almost matter-of-fact way, but the return of the rhythm that has been a binding force in the piece, conveys the necessary timeless quality. We realise that ali this has happened a long time ago, and that it is in essence a ghost story; the re-enactment of something time and time again has a ritualistic rather than a dramatic quality. Rosalia's presence hovers around shepherds and travellers in the district in the same rhythm; it is interesting to see how the composer uses this rhythm as effectively for the historical narrative of the beginning as for the floating spirit's dance at the end; (the last two bars of the piece are another pre-echo of Das Fischermädchen from Schwanengeasang). The metamorphosis of such material is one of the fruits of his long apprenticeship in the strophic song. This piece impresses more by its disciplined restraint and economical organisation of material than many of Schubert's other ballads. Compare Die Nonne.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 8 - Sarah Walker
CDJ33008Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 2 on CDJ33008 [5'44] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 15 on CDS44201/40 CD3 [5'44] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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