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Des Mädchens Klage: the legacy of the Peters Edition

Schubertreise is following the new Bärenreiter edition of the complete Schubert songs, which for the first time publishes all known versions and variants of the songs in an affordable and practical edition, available to high, medium and low voices. This may sound rather dull and scholarly from a listeners point of view, but the fact is that the Peters Edition, for many years the only edition available to the general public, selected songs with a view to making (or at least not losing) money. This meant that considerably less than the complete songs were published.

Consider the case of Schubert's three settings of "Des Mädchens Klage", poem by Schiller. The first, D 6, (1811) is one of the earliest songs, and, while no masterpiece, (indeed the part-writing is somewhat clumsy) augurs well for the future. Version two,

D 191, was written in 1815, Schubert's annus mirabilis as far as song writing goes (no less than 142 songs!). The contrast with version one, written just four years earlier, is striking. Version three, D 389, was written in 1816, one year later than version two, and, like version one, was not published by Peters, thus ensuring it was never performed. Yet, in the words of John Reed, 'The song resembles the second setting in key and in tone, and in its melodic and harmonic shape; but the broken chords in the pianist's tight hand simulate more effectively the guitar accompaniment.* The voice line is adjusted to accommodate more easily all four verses of the poem, and it can be argued that the song in this version builds up to a more effective climax, but its absence from the Peters edition means that this final version is hardly ever heard.'

*"Des Mädchens Klage" is a short lyrical interlude found in Act III of Schillers drama, The Piccolomini, which forms part of the Wallenstein trilogy. The heroine, Thekla, after being parted from her lover Max Piccolomini, picks up a guitar that is lying on the table and, 'after playing a melancholy prelude, begins to sing'. Schubert, incidentally, ignores the 'melancholy prelude' in version one. This is not the only instance of Schubert setting songs which are sung in the drama itself: the Harper's songs in Wilhelm Meister's Lehrjahre are perhaps the most famous, along with Gretchen's song in Faust.

©Conor Biggs

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