Thursday, October 8, 2009

Schubert, My Intimate Friend

Here is one of the most beautiful of Schubert's six-hundred-plus songs, "Im Frühling" (In Springtime), a setting of a poem by Ernst Schulze. The strophic seting is deceptively simple; it is only in the fifth strophe that Schubert does what he does best, using a subtle economy of means to completely change the emotional world of the song from the pastoral to the heartbroken, simply by exchanging the major key for its parallel minor, until what began as a paean to love in springtime has become a stricken lament for love and love's illusions.

The singer, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, has always been controversial, not only because she joined the Nazi Party during World War II (whether for ideological or mercenary purposes I don't know, although some of her colleagues became prominent anti-Fascists and went into exile). Aficionados either love or hate her singing; her detractors find her interpretations crooning and mannered. I happen to love her, and I particularly love her in this song. As you can see in the video, she was also an extraordinarily beautiful woman.

The text:

Quietly I sit on the hill's slope.
The sky is so clear;
a breeze plays in the green valley.
Where I was at Spring's first sunbeam
once – alas, I was so happy!

When I was walking at her side,
So intimate and so close,
and deep in the dark rocky spring
was the beautiful sky, blue and bright;
and I saw her in the sky.

Look how colorful Spring already
looks out from bud and blossom!
Not every blossom is the same for me:
I like best to pick from the branch
from which she picked hers!

For all is as it was:
the flowers, the field;
the sun does not shine less brightly,
nor does the spring reflect any less charmingly
the blue image of the sky.

The only things that change are will and delusion:
Joys and quarrels alternate,
the happiness of love flies past,
and only the love remains –
The love and, alas, the sorrow.

Oh, if only I were a little bird,
there, on the meadow's slope,
then I would remain here on these branches,
and sing a sweet song about her
the whole summer long.

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