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Songs

Songs

Abendlied der Fürstin (1816) D495

Composer

Franz Peter Schubert was an late Classical and early Romantic composer. He produced a vast oeuvre during his short life, composing more the 600 vocal works (largely Lieder), and well as several symphonies, operas, and a large body of piano music. He was uncommonly gifted from a young age, but appreciation of his music was limited during his lifetime. His work became more popular in the decades after his death, and was praised by 19th century composers, including Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, and Liszt.

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F major is a favourite key for evening songs, and for pastoral lullabies in 6/8 time. From that point of view this Mayrhofer setting runs true to form on both counts. We are not told who the princess is, but the poem is obviously steeped in deep romantic mystery; she is a Mélisande figure, or perhaps a member of that unhappy family which furnished Der Zwerg (Volume 3) with a royal victim. The tune is pretty enough, and the modulations are typically Schubertian. The passage of the clouds in the second verse induces semiquavers in the accompaniment, and there are unusual touches here like the melisma on the word 'schwelgt'. It must be said that this second verse is awkward for the singer from the point of view of phrasing and breathing. The most criticised part of the song is the descent of a sudden storm in the middle of the third verse.

This unleashes a Beethovenian streak in the composer, and something of a quote from the last movement of the 'Pathétique' Piano Sonata. All this is quite exciting for as long as it lasts, but what is not quite met is the challenge of how to re-unify the song after such a violent upheaval. Everything changes, says the princess; you can rely on nothing, in effect, tout passe, tout casse. And yet for the composer there seems nothing for it but to return to the original melody. A recapitulation of this kind is not quite appropriate; either the opening verses have to be less melancholy, or the closing ones more. One can but wonder why Schubert decided to make his princess a mezzo-soprano, and place the tessitura of the piece in a lower range than is usual for his specifically female songs.

There are other Lieder from this period which seem destined for the bright, high soprano voice of Therese Grob, the girl Schubert was said to have been in love with at the time. The composer was living with his friend Franz von Schober when he wrote this song, and it may have been that it was conceived for a particular voice, a friend (perhaps of regal bearing, for the Schobers prided themselves on their connections) of his host's family.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1990