Monday, 26 March 2012

You are peace

One of my favourite Schubert songs is Du bist die Ruh D776, a setting from 1823 of Friedrich Rückert. It's a mystical love poem that our friend Franz floods with quiet awe. The song is essentially simple yet full of subtle touches. It evokes the spirit of peace yet has an uncanny way of acting on the tender emotions of the listener. It is pure magic from start to finish.

As so often in Schubert's songs, there's a unifying motif - here the rhythm with which he first sets the words 'Du bist die Ruh' (which can be summarised as quaver, dotted quaver, semi quaver, (dotted) crochet). You can hear that rhythm at the bottom of the texture in the piano's introductory bar. Above it is a unifying motion - an almost continuous flow of semiquavers tending towards a rocking motion that acts like a lullaby on the senses of the listener throughout most of the song. There's also that lovely rising fifth in the prelude which soars softly above the texture as well as the enchanting chain of harmonies that chime out, sustain and then resolve soft those pangs of dissonances (C against D, then B flat against C, then B flat against A flat, then E flat against F). 

The singer enters with a melody of the greatest beauty - simple but spellbinding. It uses balanced phrases and the 'Du bist die Ruh' motif, and exudes restfulness. Further pangs of dissonances appear in the harmony from time to time throughout this first section but are always soothed away by a resolving consonance. A short interlude for the piano which continues the same pang-easing harmonic process leads to the repetition of the same music for the second section. 

For the third section, however, takes Schubert's unifying motif and makes the singer stretch it in a spirit of rapture ever upwards, taking wing against another enchanted chain of dissonance-to-consonance harmonies until, for once, the rocking motion in the accompaniment stops as the singer reaches a forte. The singer must take it in one long breath if the listener is to hold his or her breath in response. The 'held breath' effect is further enhanced by a stroke of utter genius - a bar of silence. Quietly voice and piano re-enter with the same cadence that ended the earlier verses. The ascent then begins again (as the same words - the words of the final verse - are repeated), though when the voice re-enters quietly after the silence this time round Schubert adds a little bit of imitation to the piano part.

Du bist die Ruh,
Der Friede mild,
Die Sehnsucht du
Und was sie stillt.

Ich weihe dir
Voll Lust und Schmerz
Zur Wohnung hier
Mein Aug und Herz.

Kehr ein bei mir,
Und schließe du
Still hinter dir
Die Pforten zu.

Treib andern Schmerz
Aus dieser Brust!
Voll sei dies Herz
Von deiner Lust.

Dies Augenzelt
Von deinem Glanz
Allein erhellt,
O füll es ganz!

You are peace,
The mild peace,
You are longing
And what stills it.

I consecrate to you
Full of pleasure and pain
As a dwelling here
My eyes and heart.

Come live with  me,
And close
quietly behind you
the gates.

Drive other pain
Out of this breast
May my heart be full
With your pleasure.

The tabernacle of my eyes
by your radiance
alone is illumined,
O fill it completely!

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