Auf der Donau

Franz Schubert

Auf der Donau in Eb major

D553, Op. 21/1 • “Auf der Wellen Spiegel schwimmt der Kahn”

About this work

"For the works of man perish....Waves, like time, threaten doom." These are the words of Johann Mayrhofer's Auf der Donau (On the Danube). Schubert's close friend and his roommate in his late teens, Mayrhofer was a civil servant and a poet whose verses are among the gloomiest and most pessimistic that Schubert set. In his song to Mayrhofer's Auf der Danau, D. 553, Schubert matches Mayrhofer gloom for gloom. The seemingly ternary-form song opens with typically flowing Schubert water music but already by the end of the first verse, Schubert has turned the music from major to minor as the ghosts stir in the pine forest. The second verse's evocation of ruined ramparts and rumbling castles is matched in Schubert's setting by a minor-keyed minatory vocal melody above left-hand trills in the bass of the piano. The music's pause on the dominant at the end of the second verse is one of the most pregnant in all Schubert and the return of the music of the opening verse in the minor rather than the major is pessimism made music. The vocal melody's repeated final line, "threaten doom" sinks down into the depths of the singer's tessitura, plunging the song into ultimate darkness.