Friday, 4 May 2018

Schubert's star struck suicide song ?

J M W Turner : A Study in light

Franz Schubert Der liebliche Stern D861 (1825)  starts out simply enough. Short repeating figures in the introduction : do these suggest the twinkling of stars ?  "Ihr Sternlein, still in der Höhe". The pattern within that line repeats in the next: "Ihr Sternlein, spielend im Meer" So far so good.  Or is it ? The stair is in the heavens, but its image is  reflected upside down in the lake. Then the punchline:

Wenn ich von ferne daher 

So freundlich euch leuchten sehe, 

So wird mir von Wohl und Wehe 

Der Busen so bang und so schwer

(When I, from a distance, see you sparkling so cheerfully, you make my heart grow tense and anxious)

Es zittert von Frühlingswinden 

Der Himmel im flüssigen Grün; 

Manch Sternlein sah ich entblühn, 

Manch Sternlein sah ich entschwinden; 

Doch kann ich das schönste nicht finden,

Das früher dem Liebenden schien.

(Shivering Spring breezes from the Heavens  chill the water-soaked meadow. any times I've seen little stars twinkle like flowers. Many times I've seen them fade. So I can't find that most beautiful one that once shone for the one who loved it)  Again, notice the repeating patterns. Something's not right ! Why "one" star out of millions ?

Nicht kann ich zum Himmel mich schwingen, 

Zu suchen den freundlichen Stern; 

Stets hält ihn die Wolke mir fern!
Tief unten da möcht' es gelingen, 

Das friedliche Ziel zu erringen!
Tief unten da ruht' ich so gern!

(I can't fly up to Heaven to seek that joyful star. Clouds get in the way, trapping me.  Deep below I'd like to find that joyful goal, deep below that's my scene)

Was wiegt ihr im laulichen Spiele, 

Ihr Lüftchen, den wogenden Kahn? 

O treibt ihn auf rauhere Bahn 

Hernieder in's Wogengewühle! 

Laßt tief in der wallenden Kühle 

Dem lieblichen Sterne mich nahn!

(Why do the breezes play around, rocking my boat ? Sending me to rougher waters, even into a whirlpool !  As the cold waters swell round me, will I find that darling star beside me ?)

So what is this song about ? The central concept is reversal - everything in opposition, everything upside down. The little star is happy but the lover is not : spring breezes chill and send the barque into dangerous waters.  Hence the obsessive, almost demented piano part and phrases that keep repeating, not always in balance.  This instability may or may not reflect the instability of the poet Ernst Konrad Friedrich Schulze (1789-1817) : how much Schubert knew about Schulze's private life I do not know.  Schulze didn't commit suicide though, dying young but of natural causes.  


No comments: