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Die Schöne Müllerin Program Notes Over all the hilltops is calm. In all the treetops you feel hardly a breath of air. The little birds fall silent in the woods. Just wait... soon you'll also be at rest. These 8 lines by Johann von Goethe are considered the most perfect German poem ever written. Schubert set Wanderer’s Nightsong to music in 1823, the same year he composed the song cycle Die Schöne Müllerin on poems by Wilhelm Müller. The text is even more poignant in view of the events that were taking place in his life. He was only 25 years old and at the height of his productive period, ranging from 1814 to 1828. He would die a mere 6 years later, at the age of 31. Like Mozart, he achieved perfection by the end of his life. We can only wonder what might have come after such musical pinnacles as the Requiem’s Lacrimosa or Shepherd on the Rock. By 1823 he had already composed some 400 songs but published only a few. Even though he received an impeccable education at the Imperial Seminary, were he was trained by no other than Salieri, he never had a permanent job, either teaching like his brother Ferdinand or in a Kapellmeister position. We know of his father’s disappointment and the terrible impact it had on his mental state: in July 1822 he wrote the document called My Dream, describing a quarrel between a music-loving youth and his father. It tells the story of a non-conformist young artist and a strict, unforgiving parent that exiles him twice and even resorts to physical violence to put distance between them. By 1822 the first symptoms of his illness were apparent: terrible headaches, intermittent fever, skin rushes and profusive hair loss. Theories abound as to how he contracted syphilis: was it the result of only one sexual encounter sponsored by his friends or the recurrent use of prostitutes to assuage the needs of a sensual personality that didn’t go together with his physical appearance. After 2 years of declining health and physical deterioration he was admitted to Vienna General Hospital. His illness was kept a secret, for obvious reasons, and was not mentioned by any of his friends or biographers until 1956. Today’s understanding of the symptoms and documentation about his treatments leaves no doubt about the nature of his illness and the terrible physical and psychological suffering it inflicted on an already sensitive personality. We know of his constant despair by a letter written to a friend in 1824, a year after composing Die Schöne Müllerin: ‘I feel myself to be the most unhappy and wretched creature in the world. Imagine a man whose health will never be right again, and who in sheer despair over this ever makes things worse and worse, instead of better; imagine a man, I say, whose most brilliant hopes have perished, to whom


the happiness of love and friendship have nothing to offer but pain […] “My peace is gone, my heart is sore, I shall find it never and nevermore” I may well sing now, for each night, on retiring to bed, I hope I may not wake again …’ During Schubert’s lifetime Vienna society was extremely conservative and prudish. Tired of violent changes and needless killing, it had developed a taste for the domestic and the non-political, with artists and the general population staying in safer territory, an emphasis on home life and a blossoming of furniture design and interior decorating. We can easily relate to this if we think back to the aftermath of the Second World War, the arrival of television, McCarthyism and a strong emphasis on so called domestic values. Due to strong censorship writers and poets concentrated on historical fiction and country life and platitudes. The poet Wilhelm Müller was the embodiment of the Biedermeier gentleman. His collections of poems were instant best-sellers, as were his travel guides. Two volumes of Poems from the Posthumous Papers of a Traveling Bugler were published between 1821 and 1824. With characteristic perception Schubert selected only 20 of the 25 poems on the Beautiful Miller’s daughter and turned the cycle into a musical masterpiece with depth beyond the intention of the poet. He used the cycle as therapy (of course psychoanalysis was not yet invented), the boy’s life and sorrows a catharsis for his own. Even more psychologically insightful is the use of the piano part as the embodiment of the second most important character in the cycle and the boys only faithful companion, the brook. We encounter it for the first time in song number 4, titled Thanks to the brook, and its fluidity will reappear at critical moments throughout the story. Teeming with life and flowers in # 9 The Miller’s flowers, turbulent in # 11, Mine!, matching the boys happiness and passion. The friendly brook welcomes him in an almost maternal embrace in the transition between #19, The miller and the brook, and #20, The brook’s lullaby, where Schubert finally drowns by proxy to be reborn and whole again. Towards the end of 1823 Schubert wrote the poem My Prayer: “See the martyrdom, which is my life, lies stricken in the dust, afflicted by unbearable anguish and nearing eternal extinction. Slay it, and slay me: now plunge all into Lethe, and thence, O God, let a pure strong being arise.” And arise he did. ©Andrea Katz 2018

Die schöne müllerin program notes  

Program notes for Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin Program Notes

Die schöne müllerin program notes  

Program notes for Schubert's Die Schöne Müllerin Program Notes

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