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Auf der Donau, D553

First line:
Auf der Wellen Spiegel schwimmt der Kahn
April 1817; published in 1823 as Op 21 No 1
author of text

The poet Mayrhofer is here in typically pessimistic mood. Although the song seems at first to be an innocuous barcarolle there is from the beginning a feeling of imminent sunset. The piano figurations of the beginning recall Mozart's Abendempfindung—a song which also ponders the shortness of the mortal coil. At the mention of the ghostly pine forest the water music becomes the responsibility of the left hand and the right hand tremolando rustles gently and mysteriously. The middle verse draws historical pictures which put us in mind of some of Schumann's Eichendorff Liederkreis songs and also that composer's Heine setting Berg' und Burgen which is a Rhine counterpart of this Danube journey. The grandeur of fallen heroes is announced by left hand trills which are submerged echoes of glories long past. As in the song Der Schäfer und der Reiter (written in the same month) Schubert uses such trills as historical stylisation; for him they mean ancient minstrelsy. These rumblings, as John Reed points out, also bring to mind the ominous left hand trills in the first movement of Schubert's B flat Piano Sonata, D960. If this song is full of references to other things, so are the words; we are being taught a lesson by allusion, and the images and sights of this Danube journey all refer to decay and death. The end of the song is utterly desolate. The voice plunges like a sun setting on man's puny works and destiny. The chordal alternations of the postlude are a minor key version of the postlude to Nacht und Träume; here they signify bad dreams and waking nightmares. Mayrhofer often used the stick of classical antiquity with which to beat his own generation, but here he sets his parable in broad Austrian daylight. But Schubert is so much on the poet's wavelength that he recognizes and colours these waters as the Styx by another name: this song is a true companion piece to that other 1817 Mayrhofer masterpiece Fabrt zum Hades.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988


Schubert: Der Wanderer & other songs
Studio Master: CDA68010Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 2 - Stephen Varcoe


Track 6 on CDA68010 [2'56]
Track 10 on CDJ33002 [3'04]
Track 16 on CDS44201/40 CD18 [3'04] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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