There are over 600 Franz Schubert songs, which the composer penned in his short life. Schubert was a master of the genre.
The "proper" name for the Franz Schubert songs is actually lieder, which is just the German word for song. It describes this particular type of classical art song, which has a singer accompanied by piano.
Schubert had a huge impact on the lieder genre. Before him, classical lieder were quite similar to folk songs, and not taken that seriously.
But Schubert developed lieder so that they had a powerful dramatic impact on listeners, and would be taken seriously as a genre of music.
Schubert cleverly uses different vocal ranges and melodies to get one singer to play all four characters.
It has two obvious parts: one to represent the Maiden, which has agitated music, and a very sombre section which is Death's music.
Schubert recycled the melody in this song for the 4th movement of his famous Trout Quintet.
The cycle tells a story of love, madness, and suicide, using captivating melodies and beautiful, illustrative piano music.
Schubert was very close to death when he composed this, and bleak feelings of doom are in this entire cycle.
I didn't realize how cold and depressing the lyrics were until I looked at the English translations. The sadness is astonishing.
It's obvious Schubert had grown immensely as a composer by the time he wrote this.
We don't know if the cycle is complete, or even if Schubert wanted these songs as a cycle, since it was published after he died. It also has what some people see as the last Franz Schubert song (Taubenpost).
The moods of Schubert's songs usually reflect what was happening in his life at the time. Since he wrote music so quickly, it's a bit like each song is a snapshot of his emotions!
Schubert's style is very colorful. He managed to make the piano almost play a character in itself.
A lot of Schubert's songs are composed in a strophic form. This means that he repeats a certain passage of music several time, but the lyrics change in each repetition.
For an example, have a look at the video for "Des Baches Wiegenlied" below...
I think reading and understanding the lyrics to the Franz Schubert songs really deepens your appreciation of the music. It's definitely more enjoyable too.
The sheer number of Franz Schubert songs means that you could be occupied almost forever listening to and understanding them all (not a bad way to pass the time though...)!
They're definitely all wonderful pieces, created by a master of mood and melody. If you want to enjoy them all, I recommend this 21-disc box set featuring the famous baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau...
The baritone Peter Schone and pianist Boris Cepeda have created a wonderful collection of their own recordings of Schubert's songs to listen to online at Schubertlied.de. They've currently made over 180 recordings, and are adding all the time!
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