Saturday, March 14, 2009

The galloping gourmet

Thinking about binge music, which we did earlier this week, led me to "Normanns Gesang," the Schubert song I loved as a teenager. I must have listened to it several dozen times since finding it on YouTube.

Here again is "Normanns Gesang" in case you want to follow me down this road of no return. Isn't that a funny funky picture of Schubert above? I cracked up when I saw it.

Looking at the comments on the "Normanns Gesang" video I saw somebody wrote: "A galloper!"

Schubert fans know what that means: a song set to the sound of a horse galloping.

Now that it's Saturday and I can breathe a little bit, I started thinking about other Schubert songs like that. There are so many of them and it is fun to go over them in your mind. They remind you that Schubert never grew old. Dead at only 31, he was always a young man, in love with the images of knights and ladies and horses. Of course I never really outgrew those. But some people do. Schubert never did.

Off the top of my head, a few horse songs.

"Auf der Bruck." Darn, there's no translation here, but you almost don't have to hear the words. The singer makes a lot of testosterone-laden declarations about life and love while crossing a bridge, is the gist of it. I like this video of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. I like how self-conscious he looks at the beginning, and then you can see him getting the image in his mind, picturing the bridge and the horse, getting into the mood.

The ending to "Auf der Bruck" is one of the great declarative Schubert endings.

"Willkommen und Abschied." Wow, this is fun! I never have anyone to discuss Schubert songs with. Here is a version of this one -- "welcome and farewell," the title means, or "Hello and Goodbye" -- sung by Bo Skovhus. I like Bo Skovhus. Let's mix things up a little.

Like "Auf der Bruck" this is a song to be sung by a guy. Preferably a baritone, in my way of thinking. You know what, though, Skovhus is not as over-the-top as the recording I love by Fischer-Dieskau. What can I say, I am a Fischer-Dieskau girl. If you can get your hands on the Fischer-Dieskau version, he really goes over the top. You have to do that in a song like this. Restraint has no place in this song.

There is no translation for this song either but what it happening is, the singer is thinking of a sweetheart he had to say goodbye to -- but he is going to see her again, and at the end he declares, in spite of all the pain, what a joy to be loved. It is a kind of "What I Did For Love" song. That is another great euphoric Schubert ending.

A lot of Schubert songs I love go back to when I was a kid. "Willkommen und Abschied" is one I got around to only a few months ago.

Here is a song that is not exactly a galloper but it is a horse song. This is "Abschied" ("Farewell") from "Schwanengesang" ("Swan Song"), Schubert's last collection of songs.

"Abschied" has the guy on his horse and he is trotting away from a town that holds a lot of associations for him. And as the horse trots he says goodbye to things one by one. The houses, the inn, the love he is leaving behind. Finally he says goodbye to the stars. That is a moment that can bring tears to my eyes. Schubert does something to the key right there, something to the harmony.

It is poignant to associate this song with Schubert's last days because you can look at the song as someone saying goodbye to life, one thing at a time. It can make you think of the goodbyes in your own life, too. During the months I was in California with Leonard Pennario, I had this song on a CD and it took on new meaning to me there. But this song does not have to be sorrowful. You could look at it in a lighthearted way. It is actually cheery, with the horse trotting along, the rider not feeling too much nostalgia.

Here is "Abschied" sung by my guy, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Can you take one more for the road?

I have just found the funniest take on "Abschied." Check out this video. Too funny -- you have this goofy guy in a sweatshirt singing this song, none too well, in between swigs of red wine, to a girl in a bar. To a sort of canned electronic accompaniment. "Ade," he says to her at the end, when they clink glasses. I watched the whole thing!

It is occasionally excruciating but at the same time so boozy and cute.

Schubert heard his songs sung like that many times, you can bet on that.

1 comment:

  1. Just to be a smartmouth in writing...

    Is Wilkommen und Abschied German for "Hello, I Must Be Going", which Groucho Marx sings in Animal Crackers?!

    Listening to these songs reminds me of how Arnold Schoenberg once remarked that he had learned to know and love Schubert songs before he knew their texts. A composer I know once told me that when it came to bold tricks of modulation, Schubert was ahead of Beethoven. Interesting thought.