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Die Erwartung, D159

First line:
Hör’ ich das Pförtchen nicht gehen?
Second version. May 1816; published in 1829
author of text

This long and beautifully crafted poem was written by Schiller in 1799 about his lovingly awaited fiancée (by that time his spouse), Charlotte von Lengefeld. The form of the poem is ingenious - dactylic trimeter (AB) and trochaic quadrimeter (AB) alternate with ottava rima (CDCDCDEE). The shorter verses are terse with expectation and bring the poet down to earth after the expansive reveries of the longer strophes. This scheme gives the composer an ideal opportunity to alternate excited recitative with lofty arioso. Schubert's song is a serenade to twilight in several movements with interludes which remind us what the vigil is all about. He fashioned this setting after Zumsteeg's tidy ballad of sixteen years earlier; he keeps the same shape and pace as that work which he much admired. In the first version he begins and ends the piece in different keys but Zumsteeg's example brought him back to use a tighter structure in the second version. Schubert however outdoes his model at every turn. He approached this task as a student, but the first page proves him already a master.

Schiller divides his poem into eleven sections, and Schubert follows suit:

(1) Here is the depiction of secrecy, discretion, delicate expectancy; all is on tiptoe. The gate creaks staccato, - or does it? Horn calls of longing in the piano's left hand underpin the poplars blowing in the breeze.

(2) A deliciously tender section in dotted rhythm. The piano writing on the page looks like a gently billowing canopy built by the right hand to shelter the left. Schubert also uses this visual roof imagery in his song Im Freien. The night air is first langorous and then playfully teasing. This is the first of the set piece arias in this anthology of night pictures.

(3) Sudden movement and rustling, but it is after all only the movement of a bird. Do we hear the flapping of its wings in fear in the eight repeated semiquavers followed by an ominous chord?

(4) A high-flown overture to night, double dotting and all. The classical allusion of Hesperus or Venus, the so-called evening star, probably awoke in Schubert cherished memories of visits to the opera to hear Gluck whose music is echoed throughout this piece.

(5) The interruptions of deluded expectancy are now given more sophisticated treatment. The swan, gliding in a circle, is suavely depicted in music appropriate to a big and mysterious bird. Schubert, as is ever his wont, cannot resist showing us what is beneath the surface - after 'Silberteich' we are given a fish-eye view of the depth and stillness of the lake. The versatility of Schubert's 'camera work', with mercurial cutting, splicing and editing is the major splendour of his ballads.

(6) The central panel of the work is marked 'Majestically'. The marmorial blocks of grandiose, slowly changing harmony, and the long span of the vocal line, once again bring Gluck to mind. One can also hear the influence of that master in the 'orchestration' of the piano part: the throbbing triplets suggest muted writing for brass.

(7) Another recitative, this time showing chromatic resourcefulness. As the chord progressions spiral upwards we could be hearing the sound of running feet - or are we just feeling the poet's pulse! As the same figure sidles downwards we realise it is nothing more than the fall of ripe fruit - the 'Pfirsche zum Genuss' perhaps?

(8) Another aria of epic depictions. Because the words are in the grand style, already a bit old fashioned in 1816, Schubert calls on the shades of Gluck and the Mozart of opera seria to provide him with the inspiration for monolithic music. There are some marvellous classical touches here like the canonic writing between voice and piano as the world dissolves into massive shapes depicted by blocks of trilling sound deep in the bass.

(9) All sorts of deceptive sounds have already been illustrated, but now we have music to mirror the tricks of refracted light. It is in this section particularly that the poverty of Zumsteeg's invention is revealed. He deems one staccato chord sufficient to depict the deceptive gleam. Schubert's glinting motif is light years ahead of Zumsteeg. And then he cleverly uses the same motif, now down in the mouth, for three bars, to paint the lover's disillusionment. Will she never come?

(10) This music of entreaty and heartfelt longing is of Magic Flute purity and ardour.

(11) We are given to understand that the poet falls asleep, time passes - do we hear passing minutes measured by the tread of chords, or is this the footfall of the beloved who comes at last to wake the poet? There is a radiance and assurance to this music which never wavers in chromatic inconstancy. The postlude is a great improvement on the song's first version. Arpeggiated chords (her kisses) are followed by a falling legato line {a tender embrace): after the suspense of a long wait, these rewards are now the poet's due.

from notes by Graham Johnson © 1988


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