Schubert: Lieder, vol. 3 (Fischer-Dieskau, Moore)*

Schubert: Lieder, vol. 3. Die schöne Müllerin, D795; Die Winterreise, D911; Schwanengesang, D957. Fischer-Dieskau, Moore; DGG



A box where sweets compactedlie, as the poet tastefully put it. And Herbert sounds even more like Schubert in adding “my music shows you have your closes/ and all must die”. That lyric mode is of course an outmoded relic nowadays. Winter journeys are right out; millers are merely corn-merchants; swansongs are strictly for the birds. Yet love and death are actually on the increase, as the latest statistics show; indeed, the whole population is broken down by sex and age. So Romantic art remains relevant; lieder may yet lead a spiritual revival. Already there are some devotees for whom these discs will revolve like. Tibetan prayer-wheels, in tune with the infinite. Others may feel that the universal language of music still needs its interpreters. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore have often performed that service perfectly, not to say divinely; and they now add a mystic touch of their own by completing, with this third volume, their third cycle of cycles, and presenting the three in one. It's a challenging gesture. To scale these heights of Schubert's art both affords and demands new views; that aspect may be worth a preliminary look.

    Die schöne Müllerin offers a clear running image of life itself. For Schubert as for Müller the mill­stream is the bloodstream; so words and music come from, and should go to, the heart. That imagery is explicit in Die Winterreise: „Mein Herz, in diesem Bache/erkennst du nun dein Bild?“ And the later work adds a whole new musical vocabulary of walking and dreaming, to match the poet's odd obsession with his feet and his head, footwear and headgear. The fashion is easy to deride; but it effectively embodies a total torment, from top to toe. This sense of physical and mental vulnerability invades the Heine songs of Schwanengesang and sends their various poetic senses reeling with the impact of Schubert's own emotion, as defined by the words he italicizes and underlines in poignant dissonances, fortissimo outcries and shuddering tremolandos. “I must bear the whole world of grief… my body is consumed ... the wretched woman has poisoned me …” At “meine eigne Gestalt” in Der Doppelgänger the composer contemplates his own person with a Baudelairean revulsion which outdoes even Heine. Those songs have clear echoes of Die Winterreise (if indeed they were written later) and surely derive from the same emotional source. The ostinato melodies in Der Doppelgänger and Der Wegweiser for example are two haunting figures pointing in the same dire direction. This view may be seen as sentimental; but it is certainly arguable, from the music as from the letters, that Schubert saw his syphilis as incurable, and felt death upon him. In these years his art (like Baudelaire's and Heine's) derives added weight and point from that sword of Damocles. Die schöne Müllerin has a fatal outcome, and can be so interpreted from the outset (e.g. by imposing a sinister stress on the words “ist dies denn meine Strasse?”); and some of those songs were written in hospital. Much of Schwanengesang demands similar treatment. Admittedly that work is not so much a cycle as a collection of spare pieces assembled by Haslinger & Co; yet it does have an overriding aspect. A sense of sunset pervades the poems, in a pall of purple patches. The funeral music of Kriegers Ahnung audibly carries a torch for Beethoven (from whose posthumous papers Schubert is said to have inherited the text). Similarly the great outcry at “Fels” in Aufenthalt is relieving the composer's feelings rather than reliving the poet's; we are shown not only the sheerness but the menace of the overhanging, rock, piling Sisyphus on Damocles.

    All three cycles, on this thesis, should be presented as the quintessence of the romantic movement, as indeed they are; i.e. with a feeling which is so intensely personal as to focus on smaller-scale forms, yet so intensely tragic as to demand dramatic presentation. Take Die schöne Müllerin as a fair sample. Schubert is writing grand opera for voice and piano, with aria and recitative in the vocal line, scene and atmosphere in the keyboard. The anticipations of Wagner are both striking and predictable. Yet each song remains a lyric. So every young singer's first cycle sensibly takes that direct route; and Fischer-Dieskau's was no exception. The incorporation of later experience added the necessary dramatic dimension to his second version. The present synthesis unites immediacy and detachment, thus achieving the unique paradox of the lied style: a carefree innocence acquired through years of careful experience. In Gerald Moore that essence must always have existed. From the first, his brook was the most fluent rivulet I ever heard discourse, accompanying each journeyman with exactly the required variation of depth and intensity, as in Das Wandern, and always ready to be a source of fresh power, as in Am Feierabend. Both songs are further illustrative of Fischer-Dieskau's admirable progression. In the former, he first sang about a young man setting out; then he set out to be that young man; now he blends restraint with involve­ment. Similarly in Am Feierabend: at “der Meister spricht” for example, he is now not so wholly identified with his master's voice as before, again sounding just the right note of independent artistry. His tone, phrasing and enunciation are effortless and ingratiat­ing throughout, as in the beautiful flighting of the verbal sense past the fermatas in Morgengruss. The only possible reservation concerns an occasional lack of reserve, as in Trockne Blumen. All this goes for all three cycles. The catalogues list some 65 singers and pianists in 22 versions of D795, 40 of D911 and 14 of D957. The vivid if idiosyncratic Pears/Britten versions may be said in some respects to retain a slight edge. But only the present duo has even entered the tri-cycle combination class; and over that distance they must be the undisputed world champions. Such a degree of mastery in both the music and musicianship would make this set a bargain at almost any price. This polish extends to the actual surfaces, which are the most silent I have never heard.



The Musical Times, Mar. 1973 (p. 273) © the estate of eric sams