The Schubert Song Companion by John Reed

The Schubert Song Companion by John Reed; Manchester UP (Manchester, 1984)


With this publication, John Reed takes a permanent place among outstanding Schubertians, and Schubert himself is shown to be of Shakespearean stature. That latter comparison is explicitly avowed in the preface; and justified passim. Its grounds are pioneer originality of genre; power of expression and communication; range, depth and sheer size of achievement. On Shakespeare's plays we have whole worldwide libraries of comprehensive commentary; on Schubert's songs, just this one book. So, as the back cover claims, it should certainly prove “essential for musicologists, students, singers, accompanists, concert-goers and listeners alike”.

    The express purpose of this A-Z guide, Abend to Zur Namensfeier, is to provide background information on each of the 631 lieder: date, key, Deutsch number, page in Peters or Gesamtausgabe, translation, provenance of the text, location of the autograph, date of first publication, and so on. There is also a modicum of critique or explication, varying from a sentence or two for most songs to three pages for the great cycles, together with cross-reference to other commentators (Capell, Einstein, Fischer-Dieskau and periodical sources). All this is further supplemented by brief biographies of Schubert's poets and appendixes on e.g. tonality, links with in­strumental works, creative patterns, method of composition and indications of tempo and expression.

    The whole work is thus planned and presented as a tribute and testimony to a much-loved master. The text itself is restrained in tone; there is little overt attempt to exhort or excite the reader. Indeed, some degree of prior interest and awareness is assumed, in such frequent phrases as “pure Schubert”. Yet this book will surely make new and fervent converts, by its own manifest mastery and depth of devotion; and many lifelong lieder-lovers will find, as I did, that they still have a lot to learn and delight in. John Reed's achievement has been notably enhanced, in my view, by the prose translations of Norma Deane and Celia Larner, which are written with a clarity and conviction that should contribute to a salutary reassessment of Schubert's poets and hence his own discrimination.

    There are, finally, a few minor lacunae and misprints which can soon be set right in a second edition. The Goedeke Grundriss can supply some extra data about F.A.F. Bertrand and Sophie May, for example; and although no doubt a rose is a rose by any other name, the threefold appearance on p. 26 of “Gertrude” von Stein (who is herself again as Charlotte by p.32) should not have eluded the proof-reader.       


The Musical Times, Nov. 1985 (p. 671) © the estate of eric sams