Der Zwerg

Franz Schubert

Der Zwerg in A minor

D771, Op. 22/1 • “Im trüben Licht verschwinden schon die Berge”

About this work

Der Zwerg (The Dwarf) (D. 771) from late November 1822 is the quintessence morbid erotic Romanticism of the first half of the Nineteenth Century distilled in horrible nine verses. Taking the "Fate" motif from Beethoven's Fifth and presaging the harsh declamation of Wagner's Der fliegende Hollander, Schubert's Der Zwerg is a musical short story of merciless and implacable bitterness, hatred and love gone wrong..

The scene as described in the poem by Matthaus von Collins is a boat on a dark lake between tall mountains mountains just after sunset. The characters are a Queen and her former lover, a dwarf. Betrayed by the Queen, the dwarf strangles her with a red silk cord, lowers her corpse into a the lake where, as the end of the poem foretells, he will soon join her. But there is so much more beneath the surface of the story: the dwarf's love, the Queen masochism, their mutual love and above all the mutual loathing. In truth, it is the ideal of Romantic love gone terribly wrong.

Schubert's music for Der Zwerg is as dark and grim as anything he ever wrote. Set in doleful A minor, the song has the demonic drive of the opening movement of his B minor Symphony in its unrelentingly insistent rhythm and the incessant repetitions of Beethoven's "Fate" motif. Although not strictly strophic, each verse's music is clearly derived from the opening verse thereby unifying the motifs of the story. The song's modulations follow not only the sense of the story's progression but serve the screw up the harmonic tension until it is released in the return to the tonic in the final verse.

Der Zwerg is one of Schubert's blackest and bleakest visions of love.