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Work

Franz Peter Schubert

Franz Peter Schubert Composer

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen ('The Shepherd on the Rock'), D.965, Op.posth.129

Performances: 22
Tracks: 22
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Musicology:
  • Der Hirt auf dem Felsen ('The Shepherd on the Rock'), D.965, Op.posth.129
    Year: 1828
    Genre: Solo Song / Lied / Chanson
    Pr. Instruments: Voice & Clarinet
    • 1.Wenn auf dem höchsten Fels
    • 2.In tiefem Gram
    • 3.Der Frühling will kommen
It is a truly remarkable thing that so extroverted a song as Franz Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen, D. 965, his second-to-last song, could have been written during the same month as the famous, gentle Die Taubenpost, his last song, or within just weeks of the intimate, unworldly final instrumental works. And yet Der Hirt auf dem Felsen's apparent concert hall characteristics are in fact just that: the work was specifically designed for the well-known soprano Anna Milder-Hauptmann to use as a showpiece, a somewhat belated fulfillment on Schubert's part of a request she had made of him many years earlier. The song was published as Op. 129 in mid-1830, a year and a half after its composer's death.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen is written for voice (given the work's origin, soprano is implied, but the text works equally well for a man), piano, and clarinet obbligato. The piece is an extended and very sectional one, certainly every bit as much a work of chamber music as it is a lied in the true sense of the word.

The bulk of the poem is the work of Wilhelm Müller, but some of the middle lines are the work of another poet, tentatively identified as Helmina von Chézy; the two are bound together by a certain pervasive world-weariness. There are the thoughts of a lonely lover high up on the mountaintop, listening to the echoes rise from down in the valley; grief becomes all-consuming, life no longer worth living; finally, spring, and with it rebirth, looms in the future, and the singer must make ready "for the wanderings to come." For all the superficial tendencies of the song, Schubert's feeling for the text is very genuine—he knew quite well that he was not long for this Earth; the "spring" of resurrection was to Schubert a very welcome thing, and he was indeed quite ready, even eager, for such a wandering.

This text is set up in three large, very contrasting sections of music, prefaced by just a few measures of piano introduction. The warm opening melody (Andantino, B flat major) is given a full-scale test run by the clarinet before the soprano arrives to take it over. As thoughts turn ever darker ("Deep sorrow consumes me, happiness has departed") Schubert turns to G minor and fills the bars with gently pointed eighth notes. The final B flat major Allegretto is a happy thing, riding upward on scales that each time reach a little higher than the time before as the singer celebrates the coming of spring with virtuoso fireworks that the clarinet does its best to top.

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