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Schubert Schubert as a composer of songs

He wrote more than 660 songs, 66 of them settings of Goethe poems. His first song dates from 1811, "Hagars Klage" (Hagar's lament). In 1814 and 1815 he wrote "Gretchen am Spinnrad" (Gretchen at the spinning-wheel), "Erlkönig", "Heidenröslein" (Hedgerose).

In his "lied" compositions no formal development or ascending line to a particular climax can be traced. Melodic inventiveness remains his most effective means of characterisation.

We have two song cycles by Schubert:

  • "Die schöne Müllerin" from 1823.
  • "Winterreise" from 1827.

Both cycles are settings of poems by Wilhelm Müller.

"Swansong" is no cycle Schubert created; it includes songs from Schubert's latest period which were gathered by his friends under this title.

Types of Schubert's songs

  • Strophic form: strict similarity of all verses (e.g. "Heidenröslein")
  • Modified strophic form: with occasional variation of individual stanzas, according to the text (e.g. "Modified strophic form: with occasional variation of individual stanzas, according to the text (e.g. "Des Baches Wiegenlied", "Du bist die Ruh", "Der Lindenbaum").
  • "On-running", through-composed songs with a special melody for each stanza, in which he makes use of various combinations, e.g. declamation alternating with Arioso, aria or strophe; unification is achieved by a symphonic structure with different motives. (E.g. "Prometheus", "Der Doppelgänger", "Letzte Hoffnung").

As to the relationship voice - piano we can distinguish the following characteristic forms:

  1. The lied which resembles folksongs, with the melody exclusively in the voice, the piano is mere accompaniment ("Das Wandern", "Das Heidenröslein").
  2. The structuring element lies in the piano part; colouring and harmony are characteristic and achieve a closeness to symphonic elements ("Die junge Nonne", "Der Wanderer").
  3. The "declamatory" song in which the poem dominates the musical arrangement ("Der Doppelgänger").
  4. Voice and piano: the vocal and the instrumental element form an organic, symphonic web, inseparable and as equal partners.

Schubert drew from the well of poetry that flourished in his age: Hölty, Matthison, Salis, Klopstock, Goethe, Schiller, Claudius, Körner, Mayrhofer, Wilhelm Müller, Rellstab, Heine. His lyrical creativity, however, was kindled by Goethe.

Schubert as a chamber musician   

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