Irish heroes, Greek demi-gods, and sundry fraudsters

Tomorrow's programme features two mighty ballads, "Lodas Gespenst" and "Amphiaraos". "Lodas Gespenst" or "The Ghost of Loda" is a hummdinging account of Fionn MacCumhaill's battle with Loda in the Orkneys. How on earth did Schubert end up writing a song about an Irish hero? Well, the answer is Ossian, aka James MacPherson, a wily Scots fraudster, who palmed off celtic "manuscripts" on a gullible public under the pen name "Ossian". MacPherson was rumbled by Dr. Johnson among others (partly because he refused to show anyone the manuscripts, but also on stylistic grounds.) The prose poems found their way to Germany and thence to Schubert's attic, (long after the fraud had been discovered, but rememeber there was no FB in those days.) The poetry in "Lodas Gespenst" is somewhat indigestible, although it definitely has Schwung. Schubert rises to the occasion magnificently in a series of recitative-bound tableaux. Particularly stirring is the acount of the dialogue and battle between the two protagonists. Fionn, incidentally, becomes "Fingal" in the saga (Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave" will be familiar to you all). "Cumhaill" beomes "Comhal", which I pronounce 'Komhal' out of respect to German prononciation...

The second Ballad, "Amphiaraos", is Schubert's first brush with Greek mythology, just as "Lodas Gespenst" was the first of several Ossian settings. (Unlike most of the Schubert songs in this genre, the poet is Theodor Körner, not Johann Mayrhofer.) What an astonising piece of dissonant exuberance it is! Amphiaraos, one of the Argonauts, is a prophet, and can foresee his own death in battle before the Gates of Thebes. Claming Apollo as his father, he abrogates the right to choose an end more fitting a demi-god, and Zeus duly obliges by sending a thunderbolt and causing a gaping chasm to open up in the earth. The final pages describing Ammphiaraos' helter-skelter chariot ride to his doom are Beethovenian, to say the least. This is the sort of demonic energy one finds occasionally in Schubert, notably in the D minor Quartet.

It grieves me that these never or rarely sung jewels attract such small audiences (I speak of the two series in Belgium, not the series in the NCH.) It is dispiriting to perform in front of 19 people... a final appeal to anyone in the Bever area tomorrow to come along! (info@rosario.be). Bever is about 60 km west of Brussels, and about 40km south of Ghent. Please do come along. The future of Schubertreise is at stake...

Address: 'Rosario', Poreel 10a, 1547 Bever.

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