Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774

This deceptively simple song is one of Schubert’s most pleasing, and famous, water songs, it’s strophic but we hardly notice that we hear the same music in each of the three verses. The lyrics are a sentimental poem by  L. Graf zu Stollberg which Schubert takes and gives it  a rhythmic and harmonic treatment that turns it into a beautifully fluid melodic song as deep as the lake upon which the boat is floating. The song’s strophic nature – Schubert adds only an eight bar introduction for the piano, and two measures of the tonic harmony at the end serve the text’s simple nature perfectly the speaker is perfectly content to observe and enjoy the sunset while being rocked gently back and forth by the water. The poet does contemplate time’s passing but he’s content to let the process occur of its own volition and is in no hurry to go anywhere. The melody keeps us floating on gentle waves without any distractions and his use of parallel keys, Aß minor with Aß major appearing only at the end, serves accentuate this feeling of a boat drifting aimlessly over rippling waters while the dance rhythm portrays the the poets joy as he looks out across the water and absorbs the beauty of what he sees.

It’s a beast to sing its large note intervals and the rippling melody make a seamless legato almost impossible and the piano accompaniment is quite as difficult requiring as Graham Johnson put it "a sleight of hand that must be imperceptible, although it is as tricky as attempting to hold water in a clenched fist", almost impossible but happily for us  only almost impossible. Enjoy :-)


Franz Schubert (1797-1828): Auf dem Wasser zu singen, D774

Mitten im Schimmer der spiegelnden Wellen
Gleitet, wie Schwäne, der wankende Kahn;
Ach, auf der Freude sanft schimmernden Wellen
Gleitet die Seele dahin wie der Kahn;
Denn von dem Himmel herab auf die Wellen
Tanzet das Abendrot rund um den Kahn.

Über den Wipfeln des westlichen Haines
Winket uns freundlich der rötliche Schein;
Unter den Zweigen des östlichen Haines
Säuselt der Kalmus im rötlichen Schein;
Freude des Himmels und Ruhe des Haines
Atmet die Seel’ im errötenden Schein.

Ach, es entschwindet mit tauigem Flügel
Mir auf den wiegenden Wellen die Zeit.
Morgen entschwinde mit schimmerndem Flügel
Wieder wie gestern und heute die Zeit,
Bis ich auf höherem strahlendem Flügel
Selber entschwinde der wechselnden Zeit.

Friedrich Leopold, Graf zu Stolberg-Stolberg (1750-1819)

Amid the shimmer of the mirroring waves
the rocking boat glides, swan-like,
on gently shimmering waves of joy.
The soul, too, glides like a boat.
For from the sky the setting sun
dances upon the waves around the boat.

Above the tree-tops of the western grove
the red glow beckons kindly to us;
beneath the branches of the eastern grove
the reeds whisper in the red glow.
The soul breathes the joy of heaven,
the peace of the grove, in the reddening glow.

Alas, with dewy wings
time vanishes from me on the rocking waves.
Tomorrow let time again vanish with shimmering
wings, as it did yesterday and today,
until, on higher, more radiant wings,
I myself vanish from the flux of time.

English translation © Richard Wigmore 2005

Performers: Brigitte Fassbaender, Graham Johnson

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