Monday, August 31, 2009

"Sink Under, World!"

I've been reading an article about Schubert's virtuosic song "Auflösung" (Dissolution), an 1824 setting of a poem by his at-one-time close friend Johann Mayrhofer, which has prompted me to revisit the song.

Schubert shared his great thematic concerns -- the landscape, the wanderer, and the suffering caused by memory -- with his Romantic contemporaries in the German-speaking lands, but Mayrhofer's poem speaks to another theme, no less Romantic, that would find further exposition later in the century: the idea of renunciation of the external world in favor of the internal powers of the soul. It is a decadent theme, and yet the song is full of primordial energy. The repeated command "Geh' unter, Welt!" -- "Sink under, world!" -- would be more disturbing were the final statement not resolved in major. Perhaps it's not surprising that Mayrhofer met his death in a typical Romantic fashion -- by his own hand.

Here is a translation of Mayrhofer's poem by George Bird and Richard Stokes.

Conceal yourself, sun,
for the fires of delight
are singeing my bones;
fall silent, sounds,
spring beauty, flee,
and leave me alone.

There flows from every recess
of my soul loving powers
which embrace me,
celestially singing.
Founder, world,
and disturb never more
the sweet celestial choirs.

And here is Schubert's remarkable song, sung by the incomparable Dame Janet Baker. Though the pianist is unattributed, I'm pretty sure it's Graham Johnson.

Above: Mayrhofer and Schubert.

No comments: