Many of you commented on how much you enjoyed my valentine serenade of ‘Plaisir d’amour’ on guitar. I thoroughly enjoyed putting that together, so I have been cooking up a few other similar projects. A number of Schubert songs came to mind that might be possible to adapt for guitar, and with spring upon us I thought ‘Heidenröslein’, a song about a little rose, might be the perfect choice.
Composed on August 19, 1815 (a day on which Schubert also set four other poems of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to music), ‘Heidenröslein’ tells the story of a boy who encounters a beautiful rose which he decides to pick, despite the little rose’s warning that she will prick him if he does so. The metaphor is difficult to miss; the little rose that the boy spies represents a young girl, and the boy feels the sting of thorns as he attempts to court her. In fact Goethe’s poem has inspired numerous illustrations over the years, and nearly all of them feature an eager young man inquiring after a demure young woman, with a field of roses essentially incidental to the scene.
Perhaps the thing that I most enjoy about ‘Heidenröslein’ is that it offers the singer a chance to portray multiple characters in the space of just a few lines of text and music. The narrator sets the scene, the boy makes his move, the rose strikes back, and the refrain seems to comment on the action after each verse: ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot, Röslein auf der Heiden.’ Of course the music ties it all together, and Schubert in his usual way has managed to create a song that is simple like a folksong and yet full of variety and color. Although the musical material is identical each time, the instrumental coda that follows each strophe is somehow able to capture three different moods; from the excitement of seeing the rose in the beginning, to the admonishing tone of the rose in the middle, to the inevitable moral of the story at the end.
The alternating bass line and chord structure of this song seemed a natural fit for the guitar idiom, and my fingers got a bit of a workout on the instrumental interludes after each verse. I hope you enjoy my six-stringed version of this classic Schubert song!
This Sunday we celebrate the birthday of Viennese composer and songsmith extraordinaire Franz Schubert. As a pioneer of the song cycle genre with over six hundred songs written for solo voice and piano to his credit, he has clearly earned a place in the art song pantheon.
The music of Schubert has naturally found a home on many Fourth Coast concerts. ‘Die Forelle’, heard here in an arrangement for vocal quartet and piano, kicked off our ‘What a Zoo!’ program, which I had the pleasure of curating two seasons ago.
Composed in 1817 when Schubert was barely twenty years old, the song tells the tale of the titular trout and a meddlesome fisherman. The cheerful melody in the piano depicts the lively fish swimming about in the clear water as the fisherman attempts to catch it. The fisherman grows impatient and muddies the waters in order to trick the trout; the fish is caught! Here Schubert likewise muddies the musical waters with thick, crunchy chords in the left hand of the piano, returning to the original theme as the trout emerges from the water hooked on the fishing line.
I am always struck by the imagery that jumps off the page in a Schubert song. Using only the keys of a piano and the voice of a singer he is able to conjure vivid depictions of nearly any subject; from the pounding of horses’ feet in ‘Erlkönig’, to the incessant turning of the spinning wheel in ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’, to the lively antics of the trout in ‘Die Forelle’. To think that he achieved this in only thirty-one short years of life makes one wonder what could have been.
Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Herr Schubert!
This performance was recorded live on June 2, 2019 at the Logan Center for the Arts in Hyde Park with pianist Kuang-Hao Huang. Audio by Joshua Sauvageau.
Hello, and welcome to the blog! We are Fourth Coast Ensemble, Chicago's classical vocal quartet. Join a different member of our ensemble each week for insights into our favorite art songs, links to archival and new recordings, and reflections on why we value and continue to come back to this musical medium. We proudly present, your weekly #artsongfix!