Yes, I know I have posted on Franz Schubert once or twice before, but I have a really good excuse to do so again. Indulge me, and I will then contain my love for this man’s prodigious output for a while.
Anyone tuning in to last night’s installment of Victoria on television may remember Victoria and Albert making a bit of a hash of a song at the end, with her at the piano. I could not discern the words being sung, but the music was Schubert’s. With over 600 songs to his name, I cannot, obviously, claim to have heard even a fraction of them. Let’s just say this is my favourite of the many I know.
Before I started these modest ramblings, I did post the song on Facebook, but I make no apologies for revisiting it. It’s not just the melody, which for Schubert was the end in itself, but the words by his friend, Franz von Schober, which makes this brief song such a gem.
‘An die Musik‘ (‘To music’), was Schubert’s hymn to music, written in 1817. It’s astonishing how much fervour and love for the art he can arouse in just a couple of minutes. Here is the text, with a translation:
Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb’ entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt,
In eine beßre Welt entrückt!
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen,
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir,
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür,
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir!
You, noble Art, in how many grey hours,
When life’s mad tumult wraps around me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Have you transported me into a better world,
Transported into a better world!
Often has a sigh flowing out from your harp,
A sweet, divine harmony from you
Unlocked to me the heaven of better times,
You, noble Art, I thank you for it,
You, noble Art, I thank you!
Schubert wrote over 1,000 pieces of music in his 31 years, and here’s an image of the part of the original for today’s piece. It’s just for solo voice and piano – imagine the labour involved transposing the sound in your head to paper.
Ian Bostridge (b 1964) gives a clear and sympathetic account of this simple message. Julius Drake (b 1959) provides an equally sensitive support at the piano. Lots of emotion and fervent gratitude here.
Do not underestimate the importance of the piano: people can often overlook its part, heaping all the praise on the singer. Someone once wrote that if you don’t understand the words in Schubert’s songs listen to the instrument and you will know the meaning well enough. Schubert would often accompany his singers, but shied way from praise, which was not in excessive supply during his life anyway: not until some 60-70 years later was the huge extent of his work unearthed. Thank goodness.
Few snippets better sum up my own feelings about music. The message endures. Abba would have their own version, Thank you for the music, about 160 years later. It needs no grand explanation, no words – of mine, at least – will never do it justice. Click image to hear why.