Pawnbroken and uncatalogued

Preparations for Schubertreise XX in Dublin on April 23rd next are in full swing. Yet another lengthy ballad, this time a setting of Schiller's virtuoso "Die Bürgschaft', 'The Bond'. A tale of loyalty and persistence in the face of incredible odds, it elicits some of Schubert's best cinematic effects, and shows him mastering the balance between recitative and melody proper. Remember that he is just eighteen in 1815 — what accomplished voice-leading and harmony! Schubert's reaction to the complex rhyme scheme deserves attention too: abbaacc is unusual, to say the least. Here's a sample of Schiller's quirky verse, replete with charmingly odd syntax, a Schiller hallmark:

Und er kommt zum Freunde: "Der König gebeut,

Dass ich am Kreuz mit dem Leben

Bezahle das frevelnde Streben,

Doch will er mir gönnen drei Tage Zeit,

Bis ich die Schwester dem Gatten gefreit,

So bleibe du dem König zum Pfande,

Bis ich komme zu lösen die Bande."

Goethe was slightly irritated that the hero, after braving a river in full spate, should shortly after suffer from thirst, but hey — it's poetry. Schubert presents us with musical prose, which, like all of his ballads, can hardly be considered a song at all. Nine months later he began work on an opera of the same name, but it remained unfinished, like many of Schubert's stage works, although many of the set pieces from the song found their way into the opera.

Most of the remaining songs in the programme are short. We hear the two versions of "Das Mädchen aus dem Fremde", and two versions of "Abends unter der Linde", composed on consecutive days; "Der Rattenfänger", which is cheap and cheerful, but not a patch on the Wolf version; "Wonne der Wehmut", epigrammatic as only the Goethe settings can be, and "Winterlied" (D deest), which enjoys the dubious reputation of having no Deutsch* (or catalogue) number. Now, this needs some explaining. The meaning of 'deest' is this: From the Latin deesse meaning to be missing; placed after a catalogue abbreviation to indicate that this particular work does not appear in it. The plural, desunt, is used when referring to several works. So far so good. "Winterlied' does not appear in the Deutsch catalogue because it was originally composed in 1815 as a trio for two tenors and one bass, probably for a composition class with Salieri, but in 1820 Schubert made an arrangement for solo voice and piano, leaving the upper voice unchanged. It was probably intended as an album leaf for an unknown recipient. So it ain't Deest after all.

*Otto Deutsch, Austrian musicologist and archivist, who catalogued all of Schuberts works in chronological order.

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