Franz Schubert Song Book, no. 1

Franz Schubert Song Book, no. 1, translated by Basil Swift. Gentry Publications


These singing versions of the three cycles, plus Der Musensohn and An die Entfernte oddly styled “To the Alienated One”, are said to be correctly metrical; and they certainly get off on the right foot with a warm commendation from Gerald Moore. Let it be granted ungrudgingly that Schubert in English translation is better than nothing. But why must the half loaf always be so half-baked, not to say crumby? I fear that the required recipe is just too demanding, even for great literary and poetic talents. So the amateur translator is bound to seem far too easily satisfied, and even self-satisfied. Almost all these 80 large and overpriced pages (thoughtfully furnished with plenty of space for writing your own comments) carry repeated copyright claims and warnings from the publishers; personally, I doubt whether they need have worried so much. Much stress is also laid on faithful accentuation. But most purchasers of a singing version would take that for granted; and not even that basic criterion is wholly fulfilled here (e.g. “with” on the first beat of bar 22 in Pause). The declamation suffers in other ways; thus “wishes” for the sustained , and repeated “allen” at the end of Am Feierabend does scant justice to the melodic line and a grievous wrong to the verbal point. Again, rhyme is surely vita] to the Schubertian melos - a need neglected at least 28 times in the first two cycles alone. Finally the actual meaning and diction, the vital sparks of the lied form, are too often dimmed or even extinguished by an English style which seems to me much more dated and obscure than the original text: ”Had I motion of heaven's breezes”, “Here, where is only sombre steel, ah! for the embers' glow”, “The brook 'gan to shuffle and churn” (so, I fear, will the audience). I suppose these and similar published versions may conceivably be of some help to some listeners; but they could in my judgment prove a serious embarrassment to all performers. 


The Musical Times, Jan. 1979 (p.49) © the estate of eric sams