Franz Schubert: Die Texte seiner einstimmig komponierten Lieder und ihre Dichter
If a composer can be judged by his workers as well as his works, Schubert stands among the very highest. Here are some new aspirants to the status of Otto Deutsch and the late Maurice Brown; and certainly the Schochows share that same selfless devotion. For each song (and, despite the title, many of the choral works as well) they give a text, including the original versions of translated or heavily-edited poems, together with comments on the poets and sources, dates of verses and settings, Deutsch and Gesamtausgabe references, and above all the Abweichungen or variant readings that appear in the autograph (or failing that the editions) of each song.
Only those who have slaved away in these same obscure mines can know how vast a lode has been picked over and shifted in this prodigious work. Bui there is dross as well as gain. The fault lies in the defining process. The book must surely be aimed at serious Schubert scholars (who else?), and for them the bull point is the difference between (a) the words Schubert read and (b) the words he wrote. The Schochows begin with this aim in view; but then it wavers off target. Thus the foreword explains that if (a) could not be definitely identified, recourse to later editions of the poems was often necessary. But that strikes me as Mad Hatter's logic. We can't be sure what source was used, so here's one that certainly wasn't. Is it not really rather absurd to cite Uhland from 1898, Novalis from 1907, Pope from 1911, and so on?
Further, this irritating procedure is used even when (a) can be identified with all possible certainty. Take Drang in die Ferne D770. The Schochows, like all who study Deutsch, are well aware that Schubert used an early version of Leitner's poem, not the amended text printed in the Gedichte of 1825. But they choose to offer this later version as their main exhibit, from which so-called “Abweichungen bei Schubert” are listed. Now, how in the wide world could Schubert have departed from a text that he had never even arrived at? Of course the original version should have been given. As it is, all that pp. 278-9 have to offer is either a crumb for that rare bird, the Leitner scholar, or else just a trap for the unwary.
There are other ways of troubling the sources, and the reader. The famous ballad Edward was published in Percy's Reliques (1765) and then by Herder in translation (1773); and it is good to have both texts. Now, Schubert’s variants from the latter are very like Loewe’s. This suggests to the Schochows that both composers used the same aberrant source, i.e. not the Herder text they give. But if so, what is the point of giving that text and listing the “Textabweichungen bei Schubert”? In any event, the alternative explanation that Schubert's source was in fact Loewe's setting seems to me not only more sensible (because more economical) but also much more interesting.
Yet it would be ungenerous to insist that the extremely hard work involved has not always been matched by equally hard thought. A great deal has been achieved, much of it no doubt wholly reliable; there are many useful features, such as the lists of all settings of each poet, and the indications of text omitted by Schubert; the general foreword makes some valid points; there is unfamiliar biographical material on some of the more obscure versifiers; above all the wealth of data here amassed and deployed is not readily available in any other single source.
So all serious Schubertians must own their copy, and these volumes are indispensable tools of the researcher's trade - even though their lack of optimum sharpness means that they have to be handled with care.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1976 (p. 136) © the estate of eric sams