Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Song of the Spirits Echoing in the Breezes

That pioneer of German Romantic poetry Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) wrote one of the most ecstatic poems of nature worship ever written, Waldesnacht (Im Walde). The poem exults in the rushing of the wind ('God's own wings'), soaring thoughts, "the surging waves of the spirit", the glory of a sunrise, "the eternal murmuring of gentle springs", gentle, alluring waves of sadness, "Life's urge to be free of its from all restraints", wild impulses, love, the "creative breath""the song of the spirits echoing in the breezes." Heady stuff! 

Franz Schubert responded wholeheartedly to the poem, composing his magnificent Im Walde, D.708 in 1820. Its a thrillingly impassioned song, full of fire and impetuosity. To evoke the rushing wind he sets in motion a whirling figure at the very start - a figure which drives the song on right to the very end. The voice enters on the wing, so to speak, riding a harmonic wave that breaks on the intensely memorable phrase to which Schubert sets "Tief in kühler Waldesnacht!" ('Deep in the cool night of the forest'). The Erlkönig-like rhythms at Wie der Held in Rosses Bügel ('As the hero leaps on to his horse') show the composer's responsiveness to every idea contained in the poem - and add to the excitement. There's a momentary lightening of tone for the bugle-bright setting of Herrlich ist der Flamme Leuchten  ('Glorious is the flame's glow') with thunder and lightning evoked in the tumbling bass beneath "Blitze"; The line Blitze, schwanger oft von Tod ('Flashes, often pregnant with death') is set to a great falling phrase. Another tingle-factor moment to listen out for is the sudden key-change on "hinaufgefodert" ('summoned upward'). High register rippling figuration and lyricism enters at Ewig's Rauschen sanfter Quellen ('The eternal murmuring of gentle springs') and remains for the setting of that whole verse. The next verse is set to music that almost seems to be agitating for a recapitulation and a recapitulation follows with the setting of the last verse.

Songs like this often seem to show Schubert anticipating Wagner - here the forest music of Die Walküre

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