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Klage Harfenspieler III

First line:
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass
author of text

This song, written in July 1795, comes from the beginning of Zelter’s career, and before the poet’s relationship with Goethe. Zelter responds to Wilhelm Meister, hot off the press and published in his native city, with an excitement that is palpable. It was the wife of the book’s publisher, Johann Friedrich Unger, who sent Goethe the composer’s Zwölf Liedern am Klavier zu singen (1796), a collection containing various Wilhelm Meister settings that initiated the friendship between poet and composer. Zelter’s numbering is curious because in the novel this is the second of the harper songs (after Der Sänger) not the third. The marking is Fantasieenmässig and the eight-bar introduction, a wild voluntary for the harper, is an improvisation that shows Zelter’s acquaintance with Bach’s keyboard works. The vocal writing is that of a chorale but one which is allowed to break out of its minim-bound straitjacket the better to express the pain and agony of the harper. The highly romantic and overwrought style, concealed though it may be in baroque conventions, is completely different from that of the more contained Reichardt. The latter’s days as Goethe’s closest musical adviser were definitely numbered by the time Zelter first appeared on the Weimar horizon.

comparative Schubert listening:
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass „Harfenspieler III“ First setting, first version, D478 No 2. September 1816
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass „Gesang des Harfners“ First setting, second version, D478 No 2b. September 1816
Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen ass Second setting, No 2 of Gesänge ses Harfners, D478. September 1822

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006


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