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Gebet während der Schlacht, Op 41 No 1

First line:
Vater, ich rufe dich!
author of text

It is almost certain that Schubert met Weber personally in late February or early March 1822, when that composer was in Vienna to conduct performances of Der Freischütz. They got on well enough at the time for Schubert to arrange for the influential Weber, Music Director in Dresden, to be sent a score of his recently composed opera Alfonso und Estrella. It seems that the two composers even corresponded over this matter, although the letters are lost. Weber returned to Vienna in October 1823 to conduct the first performances of his Euryanthe. Schubert was present at the premiere. Three days later the two composers went together to try a new instrument at the piano factory of Goll (Kreutzer was also there). These were very stressful times for Schubert: he was soon to enter hospital in the hope of curing his syphilis, and he might have felt far too ill and edgy to be diplomatic. He blurted out that he preferred Der Freischütz, and that there was not enough melody in the new opera. According to Spaun, this ruptured the friendship of the two men, and Weber made no effort to further Schubert’s operatic hopes in Dresden.

This song goes back to 1814 when it was published as a tribute to Körner whose death had seemed to represent all the patriotic bravery of the younger German generation who had fought to free themselves from French domination. This must be one of the most unusual songs in (or rather, not in) the repertoire—a nightmare conjunction between the emerging romantic lied and the world of the virtuoso pianist. Of course Weber could have played this devilish accompaniment, with its roulades of demisemiquavers (the noise of battle) with the greatest of ease, but it is clear that such frenetic and unrelenting pianistic activity, while impressive for a while, does little to lift the words to a higher plane. If Goethe were critical of the modern tendencies of song-composition, this song would have made him faint in horror (he was, in any case, not a Weber fan, neither musically nor personally). My copy of these Körner songs by Weber once belonged to Robert Schumann who quickly learned to curb his own pianistic virtuosity in order to allow a song, and its lyric, to breathe. Schubert’s setting is not nearly so extravagant as Weber’s, but it has a tremolo accompaniment throughout that is most unusual, and not quite his style. It is not impossible that he allowed himself to be influenced by this Weber setting published the year before his own.

comparative Schubert listening:
Gebet während der Schlacht D171. 12 March 1815

from notes by Graham Johnson © 2006


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