Schubert's Lieder: Settings of Goethe's poems
Schubert's Lieder: Settings of Goethe's poems

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Schubert's Lieder: Settings of Goethe's poems

4.3 Voice and accompaniment

One thing that is clear from the Lieder we have already considered is that Schubert's writing for the piano is a crucial element of his skill as a songwriter. Sometimes, and throughout his career, he wrote very simple accompaniments, as in ‘Heidenröslein’ – the approach favoured by Goethe and many other writers of the time, who considered that the German Lied should not overload the poem with too much elaboration. Schubert's later version of the ‘Harper's Song’ is more complex, with an introduction and a postlude in the piano, and a more varied style of accompaniment throughout the song.

In many of his Lieder, Schubert uses a device which, though not new, he made particularly his own. This consists of taking a rhythm, or a little melodic phrase (motif), and repeating it in the piano part throughout the song to give it a strong and coherent character. Schubert's particular gift was to find rhythms and motifs which seem to encapsulate some essence of the poem and its mood. His two most famous songs do this: ‘Gretchen am Spinnrade’ (‘Gretchen at the Spinning-Wheel’), and ‘Erlkönig’ (‘The Erl-king’).


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