An die Musik

Franz Schubert

An die Musik in D major

D547, Op. 88/4 • “Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden”

About this work

Between 1815 and 1827, Franz Schubert set twelve poems (and one ill-fated opera libretto) of Franz von Schober to music. The two men, roughly the same age, enjoyed a close relationship -- so close, in fact, that they sometimes referred to themselves collectively as "Schobert." It was certainly this personal connection that inspired Schubert to set so many of his friend's texts, since, taken on literary merits alone, Schober's poetry was anything but outstanding.

Schober was a bit of an indulgent wanderer, his comfortable circumstances obviating the need to settle on a career (he was variously "employed" as a writer, thespian, painter, and civil servant); consequently, his ode to music may come across upon reading as a bit patronizing and pretentious. Still, Schubert's musical setting elevates what may seem to be naïve sentimentality to the level of prayer, uttered in all sincerity.

The most prominent feature of An die Musik is the plaintive melody, the arc of which leaps wistfully between chord tones. This gentle curve accompanies the germinal phrase of the poem: "O beloved art." Behind the lyrical melody, a simple chordal accompaniment softly undulates with rhythmic persistence, while a subtle but resolute bass line underscores the texture. The major sixth descent that gives the opening motive its characteristic reverence reappears throughout the song, lending to the otherwise restrained melody occasional moments of rhapsodic tenderness.

Early in his songwriting career, Schubert had encountered the challenge of reconciling the formal, technical, and expressive demands of music with the dramatic and/or pictorial suggestions of a text. Within a strophic (repeating) musical form this is particularly difficult, since poetic structures will align different images or thoughts with the same music in subsequent verses. In An die Musik, however, the simple strophic approach becomes a strength rather than a liability. Since the subject of the poem is music's inherent and independent expressive power, the music need not take its inspiration directly from the text; instead it demonstrates the poem's argument in real time -- the musical landscape stands for itself.

For those who must find discrete moments of text painting, two possibilities are presented in the second half of the poem. The lush, descending sixth from the initial motive now aligns itself with what may be its textual counterpart: "So often has a sigh from your harp escaped," with the word "sigh" ("Seufzer") corresponding with the moment of descent; and the smoothly tintinnabulating triads that have characterized the accompaniment throughout could arguably be the "precious, holy chord" that grants the poet "a heavenly glimpse of a better times."