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FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Viola, D. 786 Nacht und Traume, D. 827

February 16, 2020: Ying Fang, soprano; Ken Noda, piano

Schubert’s over 600 surviving songs span just seventeen years, from his student days at the Stadtkonvikt to the last weeks of his tragically short life. He raised the genre to one of central importance and his influence has never been surpassed. The present selection offers some of his beloved stand-alone songs—that is, those outside of his song cycles.

Schubert composed “Viola” (a flower in the same family as the pansy and violet) in March of 1823 on a poem by his closest friend Franz von Schober, a charismatic dilettante whose lodgings he shared on various occasion after moving out of his parental home in 1817. Schober’s poem, subtitled “A Flower Ballad,” comprises nineteen verses, which Schubert groups in sections as a kind of through-composed mini-cantata. The song tells the metaphorical story of a lovesick, delicate flower, who hurries to greet Spring, the bridegroom, but wastes away before he arrives. Missing his “dearest child,” Spring has the other flowers search for her, but they find her lifeless.

“Viola” is unified by Schubert’s musical treatment of the recurring poetic material of verses 1, 5, 14, and 19, in which the snowdrop is successively exhorted to ring in spring, awaken the flowers, send them to find the missing Viola, and finally to ring her requiem. Schubert creates a dramatic arc from beginning to end—from the quiet beginning of the first section that ends with the return of the refrain to a new more active “movement,” that dramatically tells Viola’s story, and from a new section that portrays the confidence of the other flowers, Spring’s arrival, and the bustling search to find Viola to the return of the quiet simplicity of the opening. Along the way Schubert shows his uncanny ability to respond to the nuances of the text through harmonic shifts, rhythmic adjustments, motivic relationships—and a virtuosic, descriptive piano accompaniment.

“Nacht und Träume” (Night and dreams) is impossible to date precisely, but this quintessential Romantic song had to have been composed by June of 1823, when Schubert’s friend Josef von Spaun reported hearing it, and most likely stems from the winter of 1822–23 when Schubert made several settings of poems by Matthäus von Collin. It is touching to think that Schubert composed both this and “Viola” just as he was beginning to feel the ill effects of the syphillis that would claim his life several years later.

The imagery of night and dreams was as essential to the Romantic aesthetic as yearning, unrequited love, death, and the supernatural. Collin’s brief poem inspired one of Schubert’s most slow-moving, serene contemplations—and one of his most challenging for the singer, who must sustain its lines at a pianissimo dynamic throughout. He creates a fascinating two-part structure in which each part begins with different music but ends with a musical “rhyme”—lines 2, 3, and 4 corresponding musically with lines 7, 8, and repeat of 8. Throughout the piano maintains a soothing rocking motion with a gorgeous harmonic shift at the outset of the second part to set up the image of dreams eavesdropping with pleasure.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

Texts and Translations


Schneeglöcklein, o Schneeglöcklein!

In den Auen läutest du,

Läutest in dem stillen Hain,

Läute immer, läute zu!

Denn du kündest frohe Zeit,

Frühling naht, der Bräutigam,

Kommt mit Sieg vom Winterstreit,

Dem er seine Eiswehr nahm.

Darum schwingt der goldne Stift,

Daß dein Silberhelm erschallt,

Und dein liebliches Gedüft

Leis’, wie Schmeichelruf entwallt:

Daß die Blumen in der Erd

Steigen aus dem düstern Nest

Und des Bräutigams sich werth

Schmücken zu dem Hochzeitfest.

Schneeglöcklein, o Schneeglöcklein!

In den Auen läutest du,

Läutest in dem stillen Hain,

Läut’ die Blumen aus der Ruh!

Du Viola, zartes Kind,

Hörst zuerst den Wonnelaut,

Und sie stehet auf geschwind,

Schmücket sorglich sich als Braut.

Hüllet sich ins grüne Kleid,

Nimmt den Mantel sammetblau,

Nimmt das güldene Geschmeid,

Und den Brilliantenthau.

Eilt dann fort mit mächt’gem Schritt,

Nur den Freund im treuen Sinn,

Ganz von Liebesglut durchglüht,

Sieht nicht her und sieht nicht hin.

Doch ein ängstliches Gefühl

Ihre kleine Brust durchwallt,

Denn es ist noch rings so still

Und die Lüfte weh’n so kalt.

Und sie hemmt den schnellen Lauf,

Schon bestrahlt von Sonnenschein,

Doch mit Schrecken blickt sie auf,—

Denn sie stehet ganz allein.

Schwestern nicht—nicht Bräutigam—

Zugedrungen! und verschmäht!—

Da durchschauert sie die Schaam,

Fliehet wie vom Sturm geweht,

Fliehet an den fernsten Ort,

Wo sie Gras und Schatten deckt,

Späht und lauschet immerfort:

Ob was rauschet und sich regt.

Und gekränket und getäuscht

Sitzet sie und schluchzt und weint;

Von der tiefsten Angst zerfleischt,

Ob kein Nahender sich zeigt.—

Schneeglöcklein, o Schneeglöcklein!

In den Auen läutest du,

Läutest in dem stillen Hain,

Läut die Schwestern ihr herzu!—

Rose nahet, Lilie schwankt,

Tulp und Hyacinthe schwellt,

Windling kommt daher gerankt,

Und Narciß hat sich gesellt.

Da der Frühling nun erscheint

Und das frohe Fest beginnt,

Sieht er alle die vereint,

Und vermißt sein liebstes Kind.

Alle schickt er suchend fort

Um die Eine, die ihm werth.

Und sie kommen an den Ort,

Wo sie einsam sich verzehrt.—

Doch es sitzt das liebe Kind

Stumm und bleich, das Haupt gebückt—

Ach! der Lieb und Sehnsucht Schmerz

Hat die Zärtliche erdrückt.

Schneeglöcklein, o Schneeglöcklein!

In den Auen läutest du,

Läutest in dem stillen Hain,

Läut, Viola, sanfte Ruh!

—Franz von Schober


Snowdrop, O snowdrop!

you ring in the meadows,

you ring in the quiet grove,

ring always, ring out!

For you herald a happy time,

spring, the bridegroom, nears,

comes victorious from the battle with winter,

whose icy weapons he took away.

So your golden clapper swings,

so that your silvery helmet resounds,

and your lovely scent

quietly, like a flattering call flows forth:

That the flowers in the earth

rise from their dark nest

and worthy of the bridegroom

dress for the wedding feast.

Snowdrop, O snowdrop!

you ring in the meadows,

you ring in the quiet grove,

ring the flowers out of their sleep!

You field pansy, tender child,

hear the blissful sound first,

and she gets up quickly,

and dresses carefully as a bride.

She wraps herself in a green dress,

dons a velvety blue coat,

dons her golden jewelry

and dewy diamonds.

She hurries forth with mighty step,

only to her friend in the true sense,

completely glowing with love’s warmth,

she looks neither to one side nor the other.

But an anxious feeling

flows through her little breast,

for it is so quiet all around

and the breezes blow so coldly.

And she halts her fast running,

already shone upon by the sun,

but with terror she looks up,

for she is standing all alone.

No sisters, no bridegroom,

she has been too forward! and been spurned!

Then shame shudders through her,

she flees as if blown by a storm.

She flees to the most distant place,

where grass and shadows cover her,

she always looks and listens:

to see whether anything rustles or moves.

And hurt and deceived

she sits and sobs and weeps;

torn apart by the deepest fear,

that nobody will appear.

Snowdrop, O snowdrop!

you ring in the meadows,

you ring in the quiet grove,

ring so that her sisters come to her!

The rose nears, the lily sways,

the tulip and the hyacinth swell,

the bindweed comes twining around,

and the narcissus has joined in.

Now that spring appears

and the happy festival begins,

he sees all who are united,

and he misses his dearest child.

He sends everyone off to search

for the one who is dear to him,

and they come to the place

where she pines away alone.

But the dear child sits

mute and pale, her head bowed.

Ah! the pain of love and longing

has crushed the tender one.

Snowdrop, O snowdrop!

you ring in the meadows,

you ring in the quiet grove,

ring, for the field pansy, gentle rest!

Nacht und Träume

Heil’ge Nacht, du sinkest nieder;

Nieder wallen auch die Träume,

Wie dein Mondlicht durch die Räume,

Durch der Menschen stille Brust.

Die belauschen sie mit Lust;

Rufen, wenn der Tag erwacht:

Kehre wieder, heil’ge Nacht!

Holde Träume, kehret wieder!

—Matthäus von Collin

Night and Dreams

Holy night, you sink down;

dreams also float down,

like moonlight through spaces,

through the silent breasts of men.

They eavesdrop on them with pleasure;

they call when day awakes:

Come back, holy night!

Sweet dreams, come back!

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