"To the moon" ("An den Mond")
For the first iteration of our "Sunday Spotlight" series, I thought I'd pick a piece of Schubert lieder. "Lieder" is a German word meaning "Songs", and Franz Schubert was one of the greatest and most prolific composers of this genre of music. In fact, with the over 600 songs he wrote throughout the course of his short 31 years of life, he defined this genre.
Yes, there was lieder before Schubert, but he found new, creative ways to bring poetry to life through music. His approach was to reinvent how we interpret poetic text musically - using the singer and pianist as vehicles to express the imagery and meaning of the poem through the voice and piano. Some composers did this before him/at the same time (Beethoven is a good example), but Schubert want farther and deeper in exploring how to communicate a poet's words musically.
German lieder is, of course, in German. So, if you don't speak German, you should definitely read the translation of the text while listening to the piece- BUT you should read the text with open ears. Great lieder composers like Schubert, and great lieder interpreters like those featured in this post, use the music to express imagery, mood, and meaning in a profound way.
Schubert's "An den Mond" is a brilliant composition. In fact, Schubert wrote two songs called "An den Mond", but this is identified as "An den Mond D. 259" (this "D. 259" is just a way of cataloging Schubert's music).
This song is set to text by the famous German poet Goethe. The speaker observes that the moon, our constant companion in our lives, creates within him a beautiful, sad, yet reassuring introspection. The speaker then mentions the river, which flows on, like our lives and the lives of those around us, regardless of the love and loss we have felt in our lives. Schubert beautifully invokes Goethe's intention behind this poem - that the peaceful mysticism of nighttime, when we are accompanied by our thoughts and the natural world, can calm and heal us in unimaginable ways.
One of the things that I love about lieder is that it often tells an abstract story. It is less about communicating a narrative, and more about communicating a universal human experience through the eyes of a narrator.
The recording I've included below features Florian Boesch (baritone) and Malcolm Martineau (pianist). They are exceptionally gifted performers of song. They are my favorite lieder partnership around today. Their approach to interpreting lieder is intense and creative, and I think that's immediately audible from their interpretation of Schubert's "An den Mond".
Read the translation of this piece while you listen to it!
then click below to listen to Florian and Malcolm perform "An den Mond"
Available on ONYX Classics