Die Sterne

Franz Schubert

Die Sterne in Eb major

D939, Op. 96/1 • “Wie blitzen die Sterne”

About this work

One would not think that so slight a poem as Karl Gottfried Leitner's Die Sterne (The Stars) -- four four-line sentimental verses singing the virtues of stars -- could make such an effective, even affecting, song. Nor would one think that a simple strophic setting of all four verses to the same music could express the text so well. But Schubert's setting does more than express the text: it ennobles Leitner's poem with tenderly consoling music. Yet Schubert's music for Die Sterne (D. 939, Op. 96/1) transfigures the verses, making them into something both truly cosmic and deeply personal, suggesting an intimate bond between the terrestrial lover longing for his sweetheart and the stars coursing through the heavens. Schubert accomplishes this through a melody which has the simplicity of a folk song and the subtlety of an art song, with harmonies that modulate by thirds from tonic to tonic with inevitable ease and a dactylic rhythm that propels the song ineluctably forward through its four verses.

Sadly, this endlessly delightful song, composed in January 1828, was the first Schubert wrote in the last year of his life.