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Exploring Music: Blossom Time--A Bouquet of Songs by Franz Schubert

The MHS Review 389 Vol. 11 No.11 1987

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Frank Cooper


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Sigmund Romberg's Blossom Time was a smash success during the 1921 New York season. Based on a Viennese operetta, Das Dreimaderlhaus, it treated the life and work of Franz Schubert, and spawned our romantically parochial view of the composer as ''an innocent Biedermeier figure, spending his time in merry company in the Vien­nese cafes, quite at a loss as to what to do with his inexhaustible invention" (Lang).

Schubert really was a man of great seriousness and purpose. He sought the company of poets and painters who, like he, felt the conflicts of life's contradic­tions, burned with the inner fire of romanticism's early years, and, with in­spiration, devoted every spare moment to their art. Schubert's temperament recoiled from the mundane, the middle class, the ordinary; and when he could the composer bravely, I think, stepped aside to live mainly on his friends' good will. It was patronage at the other end of the scale from that which was en­joyed by Beethoven, who was sup­ported by some of the richest aristocrats in Vienna.

Beethoven supplied the example for Schubert in life and music, but his tower­ing achievement proved overwhelming to the younger man. Schubert became tongue-tied on the one occasion when he did meet Beethoven and rushed from the room in embarrassment. His last wish, however, to be buried near Beethoven, was granted when poor Schubert died at age 31.

Schubert's death left the world a legacy of 600 songs, some 16 of which the enchanting soprano Elly Ameling sings for us on this, her recording debut for the Society. Each is as lovely as a flower, so the "bouquet" of our title is apt. Some of the songs, too, speak of the world of flowers and plants and their meaning for our emotions: from entire gardens (Love's Message) and springtime fields (Sadness and With You) to such specifics as roses, rosebuds, laurels, and poplars (The Rose, Little Wild Rose, Cradle Song, and The Youth at the Well), and back to all of spring's beauty (Dissolution).

Nature is everywhere in the texts Schubert chose. His romantic sensibili­ty throve on its imagery: lakes, stars, brooks, birds, winds, moonlit nights (On the Lake, Evening Star, The Gondolier, Longing, Wanderer's Night Song, The Little Bell). Few other composers' songs impress us with the outdoors as do Schubert's. His love of Nature took him on wanderings about the Austro-­Hungarian countryside where, seeming­ly with both hands, he gleaned the in­spiration that enabled him to forge a new, modern union of words and music. Poets' ideas and images filtered through his musicianship and its wondrous originality to produce accompaniments which hold us completely in the mood of the idea while his vocal lines treat us to its various images--a phenomenal accomplishment.

Those for whom Schubert's songs (or Miss Ameling's artistry) await discovery will find that this release offers a happy introduction. Others who already know the experience this music can provide will want to add it to their collections. The combination of songs, singer, and pianist (Mr. Baldwin is one of the best) adds up to a bouquet worthy to be ad­mired and enjoyed by all of us.

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