September 25, 2014

The Alpha and Omega of Franz Schubert

1. The Alpha and Omega of Franz Schubert, September 25, 2014
“Gretchen am Spinnrade” and “Die Taubenpost”

In 1815 Schubert was 18 years old. In this year alone he composed 140 songs, nine church works and a symphony. But the piece considered to be his first song-masterpiece, the Alpha of Franz Schubert the unsurpassed Lieder composer, was Gretchen am Spinnrade, composed the year before that when he was only 17. Schubert got ahold of Goethe and the rest, as they say, is history. Give a listen to his rendering of a young Marguerite at her spinning wheel, fatally in love with Faust, all sense departing her… My peace is gone, My heart is heavy, I shall never find peace, never again… , written by a mere lad of 17 years.

Renee Fleming more than does it justice here with Eschenbach at the piano.

Cut to some 600 songs later (not to mention all the symphonic and chamber works) and it’s 1828. Schubert is 31, and not long for the world. After bringing forth his magnificent song cycle Winterreise, he pens six Heine songs, seven Rellstab and his very last song, Die Taubenpost by Seidl. This group is published after his death as his Schwanengesang (Swan Song).

His “Omega” was understated: Die Taubenpost, the song of a tender soul, whose faithful carrier-pigeon carries to the beloved’s house all his love and longing, such that no letters are necessary, the tears themselves are given over by this most faithful and tireless dove.

Here is a video of Hermann Prey singing Die Taubenpost with an unnamed pianist, who I should probably know by sight, but sadly, I don’t. I love how the video opens with the two artists solemnly walking to the piano in the half-dark, I love the footsteps, and how the pianist ceremoniously places the music on its rack, how they pause… and then resolve to begin. And I love how Prey sings this happy-sad song, Schubert’s last, with his declamation of the text slightly behind the beat, and how the pianist keeps him moving, bucking him up.. I love the perfect mix of tenderness, hope, longing and tears that shine through this performance. Enjoy!

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