Schubert Lieder

Bryn Terfel     Photo: Warren Orchard

Bryn Terfel    
Photo: Warren Orchard

Before I start, listen to this on youTube.  I recently heard Bryn Terfel sing this Schubert lieder Litanei auf das Fest Allersen on the radio,  I was struck by the sheer beauty of the song as well as his voice.   I was put off Schubert lieder when I was a student, I seem to remember having to study one of his song cycles and thought it was heavy weather, then when I worked for a classical music agent I had to go to endless Schubert recitals and that was it, I have never listened to lieder since.  Having heard Terfel on the radio, I haven't stopped listening to Schubert lieder all week and I cannot recommend it more.  Personally I prefer them sung by a male voice and having  listened to a few recordings over the last week the one I recommend is sung by the great welsh baritone Bryn Terfel.  A lieder is quite simply a german, romantic song.

Schubert as good as invented the three minute song, a form very much still alive today.  He wrote over 600 of them which is astounding when he died tragically young aged 31.  His songs were meant to sound like up-market folk songs, instantly memorable and easy to understand.

Franz Schubert 1797 - 1828

Franz Schubert 1797 - 1828

For Schubert the birds, bees and trees all came into their own in his song writing and were used as a way to embody the pain of love that remained unmatched until the twentieth century.  Perhaps he was attracted to such poetic texts because his relationships were usually with women from a different class to his own and therefore fraught with restriction and inhibition.  Women are typically portrayed as unattainable, goddess-like or simple and uneducated.  What is extraordinary about his songs is that unlike most romantic composers he used such simple resources to express his emotions.

Schubert lieder are technically very difficult to sing furthermore both pianist and singer have to be totally in synch musically and emotionally as the piano part is of equal importance.  Over the years there have been some great Schubert lieder partnerships the most famous of which is Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau and pianist Gerald Moore.

The recording I recommend is quite an old one (dreadful cover) but I love the warmth and depth in Bryn Terfel's voice, furthermore it contains many of Schubert's best known songs.  When first listening to lieder it can help to know a bit about what is going on, so here is an explanation to four songs on the recording:
Litanei auf das Fest Allersen is a poem with the message - when you depart from this world, rest in peace - "Rest in Peace, all Souls who have done with anxious torment".  Hence the hymn like melody with a beautiful lilting accompaniment to give a sense of peace.  Die Forelle or 'The Trout' (sung here by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau) is one of Schuberts best known songs and sets a poem to music which tells the story of a trout being caught by a Fisherman.  It opens with the accompaniments rippling arpeggios (fiendishly difficult to play) coupled with a very simple melody all of which evoke the image of a fish swimming innocently through the stream.  Schubert captures the darker lines of the poem as the tune changes  becoming more sinister and the trout is finally caught.  An Die Musik is a hymn to the art of music, it's greatness and popularity are attributed to its harmonic simplicity, sweeping melody and a strong bass line that underpins the melody.  Finally An Sylvia (sung here by Dietrich Fisher Dieskau)is set to a german translation and comes from Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona,  another hugely popular song.

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Posted on February 3, 2016 .