Gesänge des Harfners, I

Franz Schubert

Gesänge des Harfners, I in A minor

D478, Op. 12/1 • “Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt”

About this work

Ten months after first setting "Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt" (Who gives himself to loneliness), Schubert again turned to the poem from book two, chapter 12 of Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lahrjahre. At this point in the novel, the hero has gone to visit the mysterious and tragic old man known as the Harper in his attic room and hears him sing this song accompanied by his harp. Although it explains nothing in particular about the terrible crime and the dreadful fate of the Harper, it does -- with frightening clarity -- describe the common condition of suffering humanity. Both settings of the Harper's song are in A minor, Schubert's key for loneliness and alienation. In both versions, the modulatory scheme involves a move from the tonic to the submediant and back again; and in both versions, the piano accompaniment fittingly emulates the sound of a plucked or strummed harp. But where the first setting (D. 325) had been more or less strophic, the second version (D. 478, No. 1) is thoroughly through-composed. After a brief but chilling sequence of dissonant chords, the first of Goethe's three verses is set as an anguished melody built around the tonic triad punctuated by three fermatas. After the third fermata, the short second verse begins in the submediant, but quickly moves chromatically back to the tonic for the third verse. Schubert sets Goethe's third verse in two continuous sections. The first with a slowly creeping melody that hovers between the tonic minor and the submediant. The second repeats the final three lines of the poem in a melody that crawls lower and lower in the vocalist's range for the words "Ah, when I lie lonely in the grave," followed by the songs only fortissimo outburst for the words "there they (the Harper's pain and suffering) will leave me alone." A truly heartbroken and heartbreaking song, "Wer sich der Einsamkeit ergibt" is one of Schubert's very greatest hymns to loneliness.