Franz Schubert: Der Einsame
Voted into the top ten of a new generation of rising stars and hailed for his golden voice by Opera Now Magazine, Ilker Arcayürek is the winner of the 2016 International Art Song Competition of Stuttgart’s Hugo Wolf Academy. He was finalist of the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition 2015 and has been selected a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artists through 2017. He made his highly anticipated Wigmore Hall recital debut featuring lieder by Schubert and Schumann in autumn 2016.
Loneliness is the theme that links all the songs on this album.
"Schubert and the feeling of solitude have been my companions for many years. We can find ourselves alone as the result of many different circumstances in life – unhappiness in love, a bereavement, or simply moving to another country. For me, however, being alone has never meant being ‘lonely’. A running brook, a broken heart, the bitter-sweet release of death – few composers have succeeded in setting these varied images to music as transparently as Schubert did. His diverse emotional and musical world had me under its spell from an early age.” Ilker Arcayürek
Pianist Simon Lepper, professor of piano accompaniment and vocal repertoire coach at the Royal College of Music, has been accompanying Ilker since 2012. He has made a number of recordings for Champs Hill Records, including with Kitty Whately and Gillian Keith.
- Sleeve Notes
LONELINESS is the theme that links all the songs on this CD, and we begin with Frühlingsglaube, a song which Hermann Hesse in The Glass Bead Game saw as an archetypal expression of longing; soon after the publication of Uhland’s poem in 1812, several of the lines were accorded Geflügelte Worte status by Georg Büchmann in his celebrated Book of Quotations – and the poem’s popularity soared still further when Schubert wrought his magic on Uhland’s verse in September 1820. Johann Mayrhofer, the poet of 47 Schubert songs, worked in Vienna as a book censor and shared lodgings with Schubert for a while in the Wipplingerstraße, from the autumn of 1818 until the winter of 1820, during which period Nachtstück was composed. After the wonderful prelude – a sort of polyphonic nocturne in miniature – we see an old man who, feeling death upon him, steps into the moonlit night and prays for peace. The trees and grasses wish him well, and the song ends with an extraordinary passage that depicts the onset of death, as the music moves from E flat, via D flat, to the tranquility of C major. Johann Gabriel Seidl (l804-l875) was a friend of Schubert, and spent much of his life in Vienna as curator, schoolmaster, book-censor, poet and civil servant. He was responsible for modernizing the text of the Austrian national anthem, and published poems both in dialect and High German, including a long and touching poem written the day before Schubert’s funeral, entitled ‘Meinem Freunde Franz Schubert!’ Schubert set eleven of his poems, including Sehnsucht (l826), which with its cold rush of triplets and D minor shifts to D major anticipates ‘Erstarrung’ from Winterreise. Goethe’s Schäfers Klagelied, written in the spring of 1801, was based on a folksong he had heard at a party: ‘Da droben auf jenem Berge’. He was so impressed by the tune that he decided to write a poem of his own to fit it. Schubert’s early masterpiece was composed in 1814, when he had not yet turned 17. C minor turns in the central verses to A flat major/minor; then suddenly, with a succession of sforzandi, we are in the midst of the storm – in nature and the poet’s heart. Richard Capell, writing of the song in Schubert’s Songs (Duckworth, 1928), calls it ‘dainty, amusingly dainty’, an apt description of Zelter’s version but not Schubert’s, which is surely a cry from the heart.
Goethe quotes the beginning of Der Musensohn in his autobiography Dichtung und Wahrheit (part 4, chapter 16) as exemplifying the way in which his poetical effusions used to pour out of him. He describes how he would wake up in the middle of the night and rush to his desk in order to write down poems such as ‘Der Musensohn’ that were already fully formed in his brain; and how he preferred to use a pencil, since the scratching of the quill would disturb his ‘somnambulistic writing’. Having flitted his indefatigable way through the landscape, the son of the muses asks when he too will rest ‘in his beloved’s embrace’ – an image of the lonely Schubert springs to mind playing his music at the Schubertiaden while his friends dance the evening away. There is a sadness in the final bars, suggested by the pianissimo marking in the last verse, and an exquisite ritardando on ‘Busen’.
The Romanze zum Drama ‘Rosamunde’, though not strictly a Lied, was included by Peters in Volume 6 of his selection of Schubert songs. The Romance actually comes from Schubert’s incidental music to Wilhelmine von Chézy’s play that was staged at the Theater an der Wien on 23 December 1823. The performance was a flop (there’s a fascinating account of the fiasco by Moritz von Schwind) and the play has been lost. Fortunately, Schubert’s nine numbers of incidental music survive, including Der Vollmond strahlt auf Bergeshöhn. The Romance was sung in the play by Axa, Princess Rosamunde’s ‘old protectress’ (Rosamunde had, on a whim of her father’s, been brought up as a shepherdess), and it was with Axa that Rosamunde sought refuge as she attempted to win back her throne. The wonderful melody that seems to suggest the glint of the moon on the heath made a great impression on Wilhelmine von Chézy who, in a letter of 2 February 1824 to a Dresden friend, wrote of ‘the delightful melodies’ composed by Schubert for Axa’s romance. And in a letter printed in the Wiener Zeitschrift für Kunst, Literatur, Theater und Mode on 13 January 1824 she called Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde ‘glorious’, ‘sublimely melodious’ and ‘indescribably moving and profound’.
Mayrhofer was at heart a melancholic, convinced that only belief in an ideal world could make terrestrial misery bearable. In many of his poems Death is seen as a palliative for earthly sorrow, but there are exceptions, one of which, Der Schiffer, describes a boatman confronting and conquering the raging storm. The poet symbolically expresses his belief in the ideals of Greek antiquity, and his conviction that man, if he has lofty ideals, can fashion his own destiny. Schubert rises magnificently to the challenge. The marking is ‘geschwind und feurig’ (swift and fiery) and there is no let up from start to finish, as the boatman/poet seeks to tame the wild forces of nature. Schubert gives almost palpable expression to this mighty struggle in the harmonic clashes at ‘Ich peitsche die Wellen mit mächtigem Schlag’ (‘I lash the waves with mighty strokes’) and at the same point in each subsequent verse. He pits the marcato bass octaves against the rapid, flowing semiquavers, and we seem to see the boat’s prow scatter the spray heavenward.
Johann Gaudenz von Salis-Seewis (1762-1834) was a Swiss nobleman who in 1789 made a tour of Germany during which he met Goethe, Schiller, Herder and other literary figures of importance. Schubert set thirteen of his poems, the most popular of which, Der Jüngling an der Quelle, was probably composed in 1821. There is no more hypnotic song in all Schubert. The poem tells us that the young man had come to the brook to seek consolation and respite from the girl who does not respond to his advances – but the brook’s ‘Schlummergeräusch’ (slumbrous murmurs) and the ‘flispernde Pappeln’ (whispering poplars) awaken nothing but love, and sigh her name (Luise). It must have been the murmuring brook and the whispering poplars that inspired the purling semiquavers of the right hand; the vocal line is repetitive, as befits a song which deals with the obsession of love, but at the end of the phrase which describes how the boy’s love is roused (‘wecket die Liebe nur auf’), the voice leaps an octave with remarkable psychological penetration, as the young man is jolted out of his reverie.
Ernst Schulze, the poet of ten Schubert songs, was one of literature’s most celebrated stalkers. Sexually mature at an earlier age than most of his contemporaries at school, he vented his frustration in poetry, which eventually led to the hundred poems of his Poetisches Tagebuch (Verse Diary), which were almost entirely inspired by his love for Adelheid and Cäcilie Tychsen, the daughters of a celebrated orientalist and archaeologist. Neither sister returned his affection, and though he was forbidden to enter their home, he poured out his obsession in verse that often deludedly depicts his love as requited. The last of the Schulze poems to be composed was Über Wildemann. From high above the mountain village, trudging through forests and snow, the poet looks down into the sunny valley below, with its green fields and ripening meadows. This is the most violent of the Schulze songs, and the cause of the poet’s commotion is mentioned at the end of stanza 3 (‘Und ach! nur Eine/Ihr Herz verschließt’). But as in ‘Erstarrung’, there are lines of retrospective happiness, and Schubert responds in verse 4 by allowing the voice to luxuriate in A major, the key of so many of Schubert’s happy songs of love and springtime. Only in the final verse does winter return, more furious than before.
Back to Mayrhofer with Abendstern, a poem that voices the homosexual poet’s loneliness and isolation, and his inability to procreate (‘I sow, but see no shoots’). The poem takes the form of a dialogue, almost as if Mayrhofer were seeking a solution to his predicament: one voice urges him to immerse himself in the world, the other suggests that this is impossible, and hints at why. Schubert wrote this wonderful song in March 1824 between the A minor and D minor String Quartets, and the key keeps veering between A minor and A major; for one moment the warmth of the major key is attained – but the ecstasy is ephemeral, minor reasserts itself and the poet is left to reflect with resignation on his solitude.
It was in Weimar that Goethe started his novel Wilhelm Meisters theatralische Sendung that later developed into Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. It contains several of Goethe’s finest lyric poems – the songs sung by Mignon, Philine and the Harper that have reached a wider audience through the songs of Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann and Wolf. Some knowledge of the context of the Harper’s songs within the novel is needed to understand them properly. The Harper, of noble Italian birth, had been destined by his father for the Church; having spent some time in a monastery, he returned home after his father’s death and struck up a friendship with Sperata. The friendship developed into an illicit affair: she turned out to be his sister, and the child of their incestuous union was Mignon. He fled to Germany where he was devoured by guilt and despair (he refers to his incest in the final line of ‘Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß’). Schubert, Schumann and Wolf all approached these poems – the loneliest in all Goethe – in different ways. The pathological nature of the Harper’s character is portrayed by Wolf through intense chromaticism, tortuous melody, daring dissonances and a seeming absence of tonality; Schumann paints his portrait with the help of manic splashes of sound and virtuoso pianistic flourishes. Schubert’s way in his Gesänge des Harfners is simpler: plaintive, heartrending melodies, all in A minor, his key of disenchantment and derangement that he was also to use in ‘Der Leiermann’. Goethe’s Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt throbs with an obsessive ‘ei’ assonance, present not just in the key words ‘Einsamkeit’ and ‘Einsamen’, but in virtually every line. This conveys a remarkable feeling of loneliness which Schubert intensifies in the postlude’s gently falling chromatic bass. An die Thüren will ich schleichen seems to foreshadow the opening song of Winterreise; the crotchets have the same melancholy tread as those in ‘Gute Nacht’, and both songs originally bore the idiosyncratic marking: mäßig, in gehender Bewegung. Perhaps the bleakest of Schubert’s three Harper songs is Wer nie sein Brot mit Tränen aß in which, following Goethe’s narrative, he makes the old man repeat each verse. The effect of this and the sforzandi of the postlude is as chilling as anything in Schubert.
Carl Lappe, a schoolmaster in Stralsund, lived on the island of Rügen (famed for Caspar David Friedrich’s wonderful painting ‘Chalk Cliffs on Rügen’). His poems were published in Gedichte (1801), Sämmtliche poetische Werke (1836) and Blüte des Alters (1841). Schubert set 3 of his poems: two solo songs (‘Im Abendrot’ and ‘Der Einsame’), and ‘Flucht’ for male-voice quartet. Despite the lonesome title and the fact that Schubert at the time of composition was in hospital (according to his first biographer, Kreissle), Der Einsame is a song of great contentment; as the poet reflects on the day he has just spent, we hear the chirp of the nocturnal crickets in the little semiquaver figure that surfaces intermittently throughout the song. Friedrich Rochlitz was a writer, composer, music critic and editor who lived in Vienna for a while during 1822, when he made Schubert’s acquaintance. Schubert set four of his poems, of which An die Laute is arguably the best known. This exquisite little serenade, marked ‘etwas geschwind’ and punctuated with lute-like arpeggios in almost every bar, is sung by the lover outside his sweetheart’s window – pianissimo, so that the neighbours won’t hear.
Matthäus von Collin (1779-1824), the poet of Nacht und Träume, was 18 years older than Schubert, and a reasonably successful dramatist, poet and critic, who qualified as a lawyer at the University of Vienna, spent some time in the capital as censor, and ended up working in the ministry of finance. Von Collin’s poetry inspired three other masterpieces, ‘Der Zwerg’, ‘Wehmut’ and the duet ‘Licht und Liebe’, and since his poems were not published until 1827, the songs must have been set from manuscript. Perhaps ‘Nacht und Träume’, which is only 8 lines long, was written especially for Schubert, even though a near identical version was later to appear in von Collin’s dramatic fragment Fortunats Abfahrt nach Zypern. From what must have been a flimsy, seemingly insignificant piece of paper, containing a poem that is nothing special in itself, Schubert created one of his greatest masterpieces. With its dark semiquavers, it looks like night on the page, and bears the sole dynamic pp. Beautiful tone and an unwavering legato are required, and though Schubert’s original marking is langsam, the pulse must be maintained. The second verse brings with it an intensification of rapture: B modulates to G, and the singer cries out with swelling tone for night to remain. Die Liebe hat gelogen is Schubert’s most searing song of unrequited love – a feeling which he captures miraculously in the crotchet/ quaver/quaver figuration, the great distance between the voice and piano parts and the syncopated motif of sobbing in the central section. The poet Platen, in full Karl August Georg Maximilian, Graf von Platen-Hallermünde, suffered from a sense of loneliness and isolation throughout his short life. A nobleman, he served as an officer in the army from 1814-18 – a career quite unsuitable for a gay and eccentric dreamer. Having left the army, he studied literature and language at university, sought success as a playwright, failed, and then turned his back on Germany and spent the rest of his life in voluntary exile in Italy. His finest poetry (he published Ghaselen in 1821 and Sonette aus Venedig in 1824) deserves a place in any anthology of German verse. Rastlose Liebe was one of Schubert’s first songs to win public approval, as we learn from an entry in his diary, dated 13 June 1816, in which he describes a concert at which he sang [sic.] the song to unreserved applause. Goethe’s poetry, he modestly remarked, contributed greatly to the success.
Schubert, of course, never composed a song-cycle by the name of Schwanengesang – that was the title invented by Tobias Haslinger, when he published fourteen of Schubert’s late songs in the spring of 1829. Schubert’s only ‘Schwanengesang’ Lieder were two settings of minor verse, one by Ludwig Kosegarten in 1815, and one by Johann Senn, which he transformed into a miniature masterpiece in the autumn of 1822. Senn’s Schwanengesang dates from l822, and is contemporary, therefore, with Schubert’s own poem, ‘Mein Gebet’ (‘My Prayer’), which pleads with Death to release him from physical torment. Although there’s a striking similarity between the two poems, Senn’s is the more optimistic, as the swan, we are told, though terrified of dying, will sing ‘verklärungsvoll’ – joyously awaiting transfiguration. Schubert expresses this ambivalent attitude towards death by alternating major and minor throughout the song. Schubert’s setting of Ludwig Hölty’s An den Mond begins with a theme, deep in the bass, that is somehow suggestive of night, while the undulating F minor arpeggios weave an arabesque of clouds about the moon which disappear, together with the opening time-signature and key, during the two middle stanzas which recall the happy times he spent with his beloved. But the pain is too great to bear, and the cloud-veiling arpeggios return.
Goethe’s Meeres Stille was first published, with ‘Glückliche Fahrt’, in Schiller’s Musenalmanach for 1796. The two poems have always been printed together, since Goethe clearly wished to display the contrasting ideas of stillness and movement. They can also be seen as exercises in the use of trochaic and dactylic metres – the incessant trochees (long/short) of ‘Meeres Stille’ reflecting the stillness of the ocean, as the sailor is becalmed. Both poems refer to a voyage that Goethe made in 1787 on his Italian Journey, when he crossed the sea from Naples to Sicily, and, on the return journey, experienced a flat calm (perfectly caught by no fewer than 32 semibreve chords in Schubert’s great song) and frightening storms. Schubert’s first version of Goethe’s Am Flusse was composed in 1815, that remarkable year of song in which he wrote no fewer than 150 Lieder, while teaching in his father’s school in the ninth Bezirk. Goethe’s poem, written in 1768 reflects his obsession with Kätchen (‘Annette’) Schönkopf in Leipzig, to which he refers in Dichtung und Wahrheit. The song is marked wehmütig (sadly) – unsurprisingly, since the poet enjoins the river to bear his songs of unrequited love into oblivion. The semiquavers, however, that Schubert usually employs to depict the river, are here only sparingly used – as though he were more intent on conveying the numb sadness of the poet’s mood. It was not until 1822 that Schubert returned to the poem a second time (the version recorded here), a few months before the composition of Die Schöne Müllerin, and this time he focusses not on the poet’s sadness but on the image of the rippling stream.
There is no more frequently anthologized poem in the German language than Goethe’s ‘Ein gleiches’, which Schubert renamed Wandrers Nachtlied II (‘Über allen Gipfeln’). Goethe was actually known as ‘Der Wanderer’ among his family and closest friends (see Dichtung und Wahrheit, Book 12), and this poem is undeniably autobiographical; the notion of impending death is suggested by the progression from large open spaces (‘Gipfeln’), via tree-tops (‘Wipfeln’), to the enclosed forest and the coffin. There is no better example in all music of how a great poem, even though it is corrupted by Schubert’s repetition of certain words, can be recreated and perhaps even surpassed by a composer of genius.
Richard Stokes © 2017
- Press Reviews
“A golden and natural lyric tenor, even throughout the range and sensitive to text, with the benefit of solid top notes. … His good looks and easy charm convey well on stage and platform”
- Opera Now
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