Night and Dreams
Robert Swensen ~ Tenor
& James M. Day ~ Guitar
Franz Schubert - Lieder with Guitar
You can also download individual tracks or the entire album from Classics Online
The songs on this album represent a particular fixation in Romantic art: the topic of night and the metaphorical passage to and from that sphere, whether from night to day, dreams to wakefulness, winter to spring, or life to death.
The Romantic Spirit
The paintings of early nineteenth-century German artist Caspar David Friedrich portray a multitude of night visions. In “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon,” night is presented as a moment of quiet reflection. The moon, positioned at the center of the painting and framed by the silhouette of a crooked tree and draping foliage, is a mysterious and beguiling object perpetually beyond our grasp. In “Moonrise over the Sea,” two ships approach, traversing a sea full of twilight hues, as the moon rises and the transition to night and dream-state begins.
In poems of the period, ‘night’ represents a range of themes. In Goethe’s famous Erlkönig, night harbors anxiety (“My son, why do you hold your face in fear?”); in Collin’s Nachtfeier night provides a moment of spiritual ecstasy (“Holy night, you are descending”). Mayrhofer’s Nachtstück focuses on death and reconciliation (“O holy night, soon it will be finished, soon I shall sleep the long sleep that will save me from all sorrow”); while Rellstab’s Ständchen is a rhapsodic proclamation of love (“Do you hear the nightingales sing?...They understand the yearning of my heart”).
Equally dramatic are themes of awakening, of renewal. Uhland wrote in Frühlingsglaube (Spring Faith): “The gentle breezes have awakened, they sigh and weave day and night…Now all things must change.” Schubert’s choice of text for his Ständchen “Horch, horch die Lerch” (D. 889), a translation by Schlegel of Shakespeare’s song “Hark, hark the lark” (Cymbaline, Act II, scene iii), contrasts the aforementioned “Leise flehen” with cries of “My lady sweet, arise; arise, arise!” In Der Jüngling an der Quelle by Salis-Seewis, a young man pleads “Quiet, trickling spring! The sound of your slumber only arouses love.”
The unifying element among many of these works is the tendency to find sympathy in nature; the passage from dark to light, or winter to spring, is a constant reminder of our own mortality. The shepherd in Goethe’s Schäfers Klagelied finds himself drawn to the valley, day after day, despite storm and thunder, to ponder the loss of his lover. The protagonist of Nachtstück walks into the forest, singing softly, consoled by the trees and birds, as death gently embraces him. In Lübeck’s Der Wanderer, the narrator wanders the country-side, through the valley and past the sea, searching for happiness and peace.
In Collin’s Naturgefühl (the basis for Schubert’s Wehmut), the protagonist finds the journey ultimately ends at death: “When I walk through forest and meadow, I feel both happy and sad… alas, even man, so sweetly intimate with all the beauty that he beholds, must vanish and die.” With its close ties to this literature, the German art song tradition known as the Lied is perhaps the clearest musical illustration of these Romantic trends.
From a musico-literary point of view, the Lied is simply an autonomous poem either intended to be sung or suitable in its form and content for singing. This is especially true of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century usage of the term, even when simple, unobtrusive musical accompaniments were added. The mature Lied of the nineteenth century, however, melded poetry and music into a unique relationship in which accompanying instrument and voice were closely linked to the poetic phrase, and the melody, harmony, and rhythm of the music were crafted to reflect the meaning and mood of the poems they interpreted.
Principally, the mature Lied has at its roots the Volkstümliches Lied (a Lied in the folk-style), a genre established during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Among the first art song composers to incorporate this type of text into musical settings in the spirit of Romanticism were the north German songwriters J.F. Reichardt, J.A.P. Schulz and C.F. Zelter (sometimes referred to as the Berlin School), and the renowned Swabian composer J.R. Zumsteeg.
The approach, which was encouraged by Goethe, involved simple settings, often strophic, with simple, unobtrusive accompaniments. Expressive devices were spare and restrained. The primary purpose of these settings was to support the delivery of the poetic text.
In his more than 600 Lieder, Schubert cultivated a deeper relationship between text and music, pushed the boundaries of form and genre, and raised the accompaniment to a significance equal to the voice part. As a result, Schubert’s Lieder surpassed that of composers before him and set the standard for all others in the decades to follow. While the simple Volkslieder of the Berlin School seem dwarfed by the dynamic settings of Schubert, many of Schubert’s Lieder maintain a clear link to the Volkslied. Songs like Heindenröslein (D. 257), and Nacht und Träume (D.827) feature simple accompaniments in the spirit of the Berlin School, but through masterful, subtle relationships between music and text Schubert achieves a setting of unprecedented depth.
Nacht und Träume ~ Night and Dreams
Holy night, you are descending!
They listen secretly with joy,
Nacht und Träume exemplifies Schubert’s ability to balance simplicity with depth. In addition to several instances of text-painting (such as the descending vocal line during the text “down, too, drift dreams”), Schubert set Collin’s two-stanza poem in a simple two-part form but with a sudden shift from B major down to G major at the beginning of the second stanza and a return to B major at the words “Come back, holy night!”
This relationship is significant: in many of his Lieder, Schubert used the disorienting effect of mediant modulations (shifts to keys that are separated by the interval of a third) to personify the shift from one sphere to another, such as from day to night, from waking consciousness to dreams, or from present experience to memory. In Nacht und Träume the key of B major is aligned with dusk and dawn in the poem, while G major occurs at the point of full immersion in ‘holy night'.
The Lied and the Guitar
During the first three decades of the nineteenth century, the guitar was among the most common means of accompaniment in German and Austrian Lieder and song, second only to the piano. The guitar was well suited to intimate settings and offered unobtrusive support to the voice while allowing for a high degree of nuance and color for expressive text painting.
Among the many hundreds of songs written, arranged and published with guitar accompaniment during these years were original Lieder with guitar accompaniment by Carl Maria von Weber, August Harder, Louise Reichardt (daughter of the aforementioned J.F. Reichardt), and Mauro Giuliani. Many notable arrangements of Beethoven and Schubert’s Lieder were published with guitar accompaniment as well. All together over two dozen of Schubert’s Lieder were published with guitar accompaniment during the composer’s lifetime, many in tandem with the piano versions and by the same publisher. Schubert maintained a lifelong affiliation with the guitar: his Zur Namensfeier meines Vaters, D. 80 is scored for three voices and guitar accompaniment; he arranged Matiegka’s Nocturno for flute, viola and guitar by adding a cello part and a new trio for the minuet, listed by Deutsch as Schubert’s Quartet, D. 96; and a guitar made by Georg Stauffer was found amid Schubert’s exiguous estate at his death. Modern scholars have concluded that the published guitar versions of Schubert’s Lieder, though possibly sanctioned by the composer, were created by the publishers and anonymous guitarists. This conclusion is supported by evidence, including the fact that many of these period transcriptions feature simplifications that compromise the piano versions. To remedy this, the transcriptions on this album are modern arrangements that take both the period piano and guitar versions into account.
Of the fourteen Lieder featured on this recording, eight were published in Schubert’s day with guitar accompaniment. Most of the others appeared in guitar versions later in the nineteenth century. It is surprising that Heidenröslein was not among those published during Schubert's lifetime; this song features a simple, folk-like accompaniment that can be easily adapted to the guitar. Many of the guitar transcriptions featured here, such as Nacht und Träume and Schäfers Klagelied, bear few differences from the piano versions. Others present formidable challenges to a guitarist, such as the rhythmically complex accompaniment figure in Frühlingsglaube.
In all cases, however, the guitar provides a more intimate accompaniment to the voice than the modern piano, and a color similar to the relatively quiet, varied timbre of the piano used by Schubert and his contemporaries. All things considered, the guitar is a perfect choice for the nuanced mystery of the Lieder featured here.
Throughout history, night has harbored both fear and fascination, proclamations of love and time for solitary reflection. For many it prompts associations with both dreams and eternal rest. In Romantic thought, night and death are releases from the troubles of this life and ultimately bring forth both freedom and happiness.
Tenor - Robert Swensen
Praised by the New York Times as giving a performance “that was gripping and ultimately moving” in a production of Argento’s Postcard form Morocco, fulfills singing engagements at an international level. His most critically acclaimed performances include the title role in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex opposite Gerard Depardieu at the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples, and major opera roles in Venice, Bayreuth, Munich, Berlin, Paris, Geneva, Antwerp, Turin, Wexford and Vienna. He has also appeared in concert at the Academia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Rome, under Wolfgang Sawallisch; the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival; Hermann Prey's Schubertiade in New York and in Vienna, and with major orchestras in Munich, Cologne, Dresden, and Leipzig.
His extensive discography includes recordings for Phillips, PBS, Deutsche Grammophon, L'orfeo, Capriccio, EMI, BMG/RCA, and Teldec. A passionate enthusiast of song literature, Mr. Swensen has recorded an album of songs by Rachmaninoff, Sibelius, Grieg and Alfven for Encore Records and Breath in a Ram’s Horn: Songs of Daniel Asia for Summit Records.
Guitarist - James M. Day
is active as performer and scholar in Europe and the United States. His performances have included appearances at the Schubert Bicentennial Celebration at New York’s Lincoln Center, SolarFest Performing Arts Festival in Vermont, The International Guitar and Lute Exposition in Vicenza, Italy, and St. James Piccadilly in London. His concerts have been broadcast on public television and radio in several U.S. locations, and he has received numerous awards for his performances, including a top prize in the Rantucci International Guitar Competition in Buffalo.
Recent appearances and collaborations have included Harrisburg Symphony, Boheme Opera Theater of New Jersey, Eastern Wind Symphony, Princeton Girlchoir, Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society, Car Music Project, Guitar Foundation of America International Convention in Los Angeles, and a series of lecture-recitals focused on early nineteenth-century Lieder with guitar in Philadelphia, Madrid, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt.
SPACE SPACE SPACE