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Der Jüngling am Bache, D30

First line:
An der Quelle sass der Knabe
First setting; published in 1895 in series 20 of the Gesamtausgabe, Leipzig
author of text

Whether or not Antonio Salieri had anything to do with the death of Mozart it is certain that he had a good deal to do with the birth of the Lied. Salieri was Schubert's composition teacher at the Imperial Choir School in Vienna, and he did his best to discourage his young charge from setting texts in the "barbarous" German language. Salieri insisted on a singable and charming vocal line—musical shape took precedence over words. On the other hand, the older German composers whom Schubert admired (Zumsteeg especially) made a point of subjugating their compositional fancy to the poets' words. Song was akin to recitation; meaning and nuance in declamation were all, the vocal line was untainted by "frivolous" Italian bel canto. Schubert was mightily fascinated by the dramatic austerity of this approach, and the forbidden fruit of German poetry was made more attractive to the youngster by his teacher's prohibitions. But even more powerful was Schubert's genius for melody which blossomed with Mozart's example and under Salieri's tutelage. This provided what serious German song had hitherto lacked - the Italianate warmth and flexibility of a touching vocal line. The German Lied as Schubert conceived it was created by balancing the musical and poetic demands of North and South to achieve a truly European synthesis of intellectuality and heart.

One of the numerous composition exercises Salieri gave to the teenage composer was to set Metastasio's Quell' Innocente Figlio for various vocal combinations. The first of these exercises (D17 No1) bears a strong resemblance to Der Jüngling am Bache which is in effect Schubert's first song. He had already used Schiller texts to make a couple of highly successful Zumsteeg-like ballads but here the poet provides Schubert with words for a song. It is not strictly strophic in the rigid North German sense because, as Einstein puts it, "drawn irresistibly to find a means of expressing himself", Schubert varies the treatment of the second half of each verse. The whole is like a rondo with interludes; recitative leads back to enchanting arioso. Two and a half years later the composer adjusted the setting (D192 - the tune remains very similar but is transposed to the minor key) and in 1819 there was a third attempt (D638 completely new musically, but still strophic). Schiller's verses thus fascinated and challenged Schubert over a period of seven years. This is typical evidence of his artistic conscience when attempting to find his way into a poem - if he decided on a strophic setting it was no easy option: the challenge was always to find music that encapsulated the whole poem and in which there was not a sense of jarring disappointment in one or other of the verses. This first setting has a lot to commend it - youthful ardour and innocence, a bow in Mozart's direction (the younger composer's idol), but at the same time a definite announcement of the coming Schubert.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988


Schubert: The Complete Songs
CDS44201/40Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only
Schubert: The Hyperion Schubert Edition, Vol. 1 - Janet Baker
CDJ33001Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40


Track 1 on CDJ33001 [3'46] Archive Service; also available on CDS44201/40
Track 7 on CDS44201/40 CD2 [3'46] Boxed set + book (at a special price) — Download only

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