Orest auf Tauris

Franz Schubert

Orest auf Tauris in Eb major

D548 • “Ist dies Tauris”

About this work

An educated public in the early years of the nineteenth century would have known who Orestes was (son of Agamemnon and brother of Elektra and Iphigenia), where Tauris was (the barbarian land on the eastern coast of the Black Sea), what he was doing there (fleeing the Eumenides, the furies who have cursed him for killing his kin), and who put him there (Aeschylus, Goethe, and Gluck among others). Thus Johann Mayrhofer could launch his four-verse poem called "Orest auf Tauris" (Orestes on Tauris) without gloss or explanation and take for granted that his audience knew of whom, of where, and of what he spoke.

As is clear from his setting of Mayrhofer's poem (D. 548) from March 1817, Schubert plainly knew who put poor Orestes in Tauris, but he was especially familiar with Gluck whose opera Iphigenia im Taurid he had seen at the Theater an die Wien a few years earlier. Schubert's through-composed song has the high classical nobility of his best Gluckian arias: a regal harmonic purity almost untainted by humanity or, unfortunately, of interest. Unlike his sister whom Schubert portrayed in his tender setting of Mayrhofer's "Iphigenia" from June, 1817, this Orestes is too exalted to be sympathetic. Although the song's vocal melody is strongly cast, its accompaniment is grandly forceful, and its harmonic motions are serenely powerful, this Orestes is more of a paragon than a person.