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Die Sommernacht, D289

First line:
Wenn der Schimmer von dem Monde nun herab
first published in 1895
author of text

This is a sublime example of recitativo in tempo, and a song which has been consistently undervalued, not even rating a mention in Capell's book. Schubert might well have known Gluck's setting which is also very beautiful and ends adventurously in the dominant. The thirds and sixths here, the concord of moonlit euphony, spiced with the chromatics of human emotion and bereavement, are reminiscent of the opening recitative of the Ossian setting Die Nacht (Volume 6) from two years later. There are many beautiful touches: thus the moonlight pours (as it were, drop by drop) into the wood in mezzo-staccato falling semiquavers after the word 'ergiesst', and the fragrance from the flowers is wafted into the music via melting harmonies, a crotchet falling to a quaver, under the word 'dämmern'. This is prophetic of Dass sie hier gewesen, which is Schubert's greatest song about lingering fragrance, and another masterful mix of perfumed recitative and lyrical line. The little arioso from 'Wie umwehten uns der Duft' which finishes the piece is quite simply Schubert of the highest quality; gratitude for nature prompts the singer to launch, at last, into a legato outpouring of classically poised melody; the effect is like that of a soothing balm, healing the wounds of loss. Bereavement (the poet has lost his wife) has the power to teach us how to value the beauties of the here and now with a heightened humility and intensity. Not only does Schubert, even at this tender age, understand this; he knows how to translate the feeling into music with uncanny accuracy. A similar mood of humility and moonlit introspection informs the companion piece to this poem, (also set by Gluck), Die frühen Gräber.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990


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Track 4 on CDJ33008 [3'07] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 10 on CDS44201/40 CD10 [3'07] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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