Franz Schubert

Nachtviolen in C major

D752 • “Nachtviolen, dunkle Augen, seelenvolle, selig ist es”

About this work

One of three Johann Mayrhofer poems set to music by Franz Schubert in April 1822 (possibly four, if we reassign Lied eines Schiffers an die Dioskuren to that year and month, as it probably should be), Nachtviolen, D. 752, remained unpublished until 1872, when it was issued (in the wrong key, which would have annoyed Schubert) as part of a larger compilation.

Nachtviolen is the German name for dame's violet, a plant also known as sweet rocket (it is called Nachtviolen because it is fragrant at nighttime). In Mayrhofer's poem the flowers become the object of tender, delicate yearning, something personified with "dark, soulful eyes" and able to seduce with "sublime, wistful glances." Schubert condenses Mayrhofer's four-stanza poem into three stanzas, which he sets in a through-composed fashion, in C major, Langsam (slow), and in the most intimate kind of pianissimo.

A single pregnant motive -- a dotted figure followed by two quarter notes (full of rich possibilities, most of which Schubert very carefully does not explore, instead leaving the little theme alone to work its spell) -- saturates the song; the few moments during which it is not present, most significantly the opening and the close of the second stanza, draw this motive ever closer to our ears and hearts by way of absence. A lovely moment of rapture is achieved during the third stanza as the words "and now our heavenly union blooms during the silent nighttime" are set around a full-textured descending sequence in the accompaniment, to which the singer adds a tiny wisp of a countermelody.