Franz Peter Schubert - Life and Music

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Franz Schubert - Part Songs & Chorus

Music > Songs (Lieder)

Other than the opera theaters, large concert halls did not exist in Schubert's days. Public concerts were often given in the meeting rooms of restaurants and taverns, sometimes in the gardens of large homes. Choral music was a frequent part of these concerts, and there was naturally a demand for new compositions.

Unlike his songs, which Schubert poured out whenever the inspiration struck him, the choral works were probably all the result of requests from performers. The vogue for such part-songs lasted little more than a century, fading and taking the repertoire with it into obscurity.

Though there is much in this body of music that is less than first-rate, some of it is worthy of revival, particularly the hundred or so male quartets and choruses contributed by Schubert.

Many of the songs are strophic, occurring in more or less regular verses. Most of the writing is homophonic, tending toward block chords with all parts singing the same words at the same time, though with a bit of imitation between voices here and there for color and variety.

Following the conventional style of such part-sonqs, Schubert usually gives the melody to the top tenors, with the other parts accompanying. Schubert's production of polyphonic songs and choruses extended chronologically almost as widely as that of the lied. At the age of 15 he modelled a comic trio, Die Advokaten (D. 37; TTB and piano), after a work by Anton Fischer. Only months before his death he composed Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe (D. 954) for the dedication of the new bells in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in the Alservorstadt. He completed more than 150 such works, amounting in length to some 30% of his lieder output. The fledgling tradition of part-singing in Vienna was consolidated in 1809 in Berlin with Zelter's founding of the Liedertafel, a men's organization modelled loosely on the Meistersinger guilds. The practice spread quickly throughout the German-speaking regions and Schubert became its most important Viennese representative. Almost two-thirds of Schubert's partsongs or choruses are for men's voices, reflecting the essential child-rearing duties assigned to women in Biedermeier Europe.

About a fifth are for mixed voices, and only half a dozen call for women's voices. The remainder are either unison or unspecified. In practice, many works could be performed with either one, several or many voices to a part, blurring any hard and fast distinction between solo and choral part-songs. In these works Schubert presents a rich variety of dispositions, including SATB, SAT, STB, TTB, TTBB, TTBBB, TTTTBBBB, SA, SSA, SSAA, chorus, double chorus, often spiced with additional combinations of soloists. The songs divide almost evenly between unaccompanied and accompanied. Schubert had a particular gift for inventing apt and varied vocal sonorities.

in Lied im Freien (D. 572; TTBB) the outer sections are set in sprightly homophony punctuated by appoggiaturas to celebrate the coming of May. The second stanza's focus on the play of light and shade is treated in imitation, while the leisurely strolling of the third stanza is set as a slow fugato. The accompaniments range from simple keyboard to groups of horns, strings, wind and even full orchestra.

Almost certainly Schubert's early training in the boys' choir of the Imperial Chapel accounts for the high range of the tenor writing in much of this music. Many of the songs and choruses are occasional pieces. Ten carry generic drinking-song titles such as Trinklied, Punschlied or Wein und Liebe, while others are titled Schlachtlied or Fischerlied. Yet in his partsongs Schubert was drawn to a similar array of poetry as in the solo songs. The fifth and last of his settings of Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt (D. 877 no.1) is the only one to mirror Goethe's scene as a duet between Mignon and the Harper, and easily surpasses the solo settings in emotional range. A remarkably high percentage of these works received their premières in Schubert's lifetime, and a goodly number were published.

With its elaborate piano accompaniment, the SSAA quartet, Gott in der Natur (D. 757), first performed in 1827), is a hymn of praise to nature on almost as grand a scale as its solo counterpart, Die Allmacht. The more intimate Des Tages Weihe (D. 763) uses an SATB quartet to create a sense of gratitude more compelling than could be achieved by a solo voice. Night songs especially stimulated Schubert's colour palette. Wehmut (‘Die Abendglöcke tönet’, D. 825, TTBB) contrasts the monotone chiming of the bell with the magic of sunset. Mondenschein (D. 875), on a text by Schober and which received its première in the last year of the composer's life, exemplifies the best of Schubert's chromatic and major–minor inflections, here in a skein of aching appoggiaturas. Nachtgesang im Walde (D. 913); first performed in 1827 uses the echo effect of four horns to exquisite effect.


Listen to Standchen D. 920


Both Die Nacht (D. 983c) and Nachthelle (D. 892); first performed in 1827, highlight the upper male range to portray vividly the allure of night. Nachthelle is built around an ethereal piano accompanment that invests the choral echoes of the solo tenor with a special glow.

Geist der Liebe, D. 747 (TTBB; first performed in 1822), easily surpasses Schubert's solo setting of the same Matthisson poem. Ständchen (D. 920; alto and TTBB chorus), was written for Anna Fröhlich, who had scheduled a garden concert by her girls' chorus in celebration of the birthday of one of the girls. She obtained the poem from the dramatist Franz Grillparzer and took it to Schubert.

Praising the beauty of the verses, the composer looked at the poem only a few minutes before exclaiming, 'I have it! It's done already.' Three days later, the completed manuscript was delivered. Unfortunately for Miss Frohlich, he had written it for alto soloist and male chorus. When his oversight was pointed out, Schubert quickly rewrote the chorus parts for female voices.

Certain texts lent themselves naturally to the partsong. The collective energy of Der Tanz (SATB; D. 826) seems to spring off the page; and the repeated references to battle in Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's Gebet (SATB; D. 815), one of Schubert's most ambitious partsongs, call for an equally collective utterance. Mirjams Siegesgesang (D. 942), for soprano, chorus and piano (Schubert doubtless intended to orchestrate it), is Schubert's most direct homage to Handel, whose music was frequently performed in Vienna. When reading Handel's music at the piano, Schubert is supposed to have remarked to Hüttenbrenner: ‘Oh, the daring of these modulations! Things like that do not occur to the likes of us even in a dream!’ Amateur choruses and part-singing reached their peak of popularity during the 19th century, and it is to be regretted that Schubert's partsongs, which include some of his finest inspirations, are performed comparatively rarely today.

Part Songs and Secular Choral Music list:

Totengräberlied, D.38
Unendliche Freude, D.51
Vorüber die stöhnende Klage, D.53
Unendliche Freude, D.54
Selig durch die Liebe, D.55
Thronend auf erhabnem Sitz (fragment), D.62
Wer die steile Sternenbahn, D.63
Majestät'sche Sonnenrosse, D.64
Schmerz verzerret ihr Gesicht (sketch), D.65
Die zwei Tugendwege, D.71
Trinklied, D.75
Cantate zur Namensfeier des Vaters, D.80
Verschwunden sind die Schmerzen, D.88
Wer ist gross?, D.110
Mailied, D.129
Der Schnee zerrinnt, D.130
Lacrimoso son io, D.131
Klage um Ali Bey, D.140
Trinklied, D.148, Op.131 No.2
Osterlied, D.168a
Trinklied vor der Schlacht, D.169
Schwertlied, D.170
Trinklied, D.183
Mailied 'Grüner wird die Au', D.199
Mailied 'Der Schnee zerrinnt', D.202
Der Morgenstern, D.203
Lützows wilde Jagd, D.205
Hymne an den Unendlichen, D.232
Trinklied im Winter, D.242
Willkommen, lieber schöner Mai, D.244
Punschlied (Im Norden zu singen), D.253
Trinklied, D.267
Punschlied, D.277
Namensfeier, D.294
Der Entfernten, D.331
Die Einsiedelei, D.337
An den Frühling, D.338
Die Schlacht (sketch), D.387
Beitrag zur fünfzigjähren Jubelfeier des Herrn Salieri, D.407
Naturgenuss, D.422
Trinklied im Mai, D.427
An die Sonne, D.439
Chor der Engel, D.440
Beitrag zur fünfzigjähren Jubelfeier des Herrn Salieri (2nd version), D.441
Schlachtgesang, D.443
Kantate zu Ehren Joseph Spendou's, D.472
Der Geistertanz, D.494
La Pastorella, D.513
Lied im Freien, D.572
Das Dörfchen, D.598
Lebenslust, D.609
Das Dörfchen, D.641
Sehnsucht, D.656
Ruhe, schönstes Glück der Erde, D.657
Cantate zum Geburtstag des Sängers Michael Vogl, D.666, Op.158
Gesang der Geister über den Wassern, D.714
Die Nachtigall, D.724
Geist der Liebe, D.747
Geburtstaghymne, D.763
Lied eines Kriegers, D.822
3 Gesänge für vier Männerstimmen, D.825, Op.64
Der Tanz, D.826
Trinklied aus dem XVI. Jahrhundert, D.847, Op.155
Nachtmusik, D.848, Op.156
Widerspruch, D.865, Op.105 No.1
Mondenschein, D.875, Op.102
Nachthelle, D.892, Op.134
Grab und Mond, D.893
Wein und Liebe, D.901
Zur guten Nacht, D.903, Op.81 No.3
Schlachtlied, D.912, Op.151
Nachtgesang im Walde, D.913
Ständchen ('Zögernd leise'), D.920 (1st version)
Kantate zur Feier der Genesung des Fräulein Irene von Kiesewetter, D.936
Hymnus an den heiligen Geist, D.948 (2nd version)
Glaube, Hoffnung und Liebe, D.954
4 Gesänge für vier Männerstimmen, D.983, Op.17
Gott im Ungewitter, D.985
Gott der Weltschöpfer, D.986
Liebe säuseln die Blätter, D.988

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