Schubert - Schwanengesang - "Liebesbotschaft"
Schwanengesang was Schubert's final song set, but was not intended to be grouped as a cycle (in contrast to his earlier cycles, Die schöne Müllerin, and Winterreise). Published posthumously, we can't be certain how Schubert intended these songs to be grouped or performed; but it is possible that he intended the first thirteen songs (out of fourteen songs in the set) to be grouped by poet. Of these songs, the first seven of the texts were written by the poet Ludwig Rellstab, and the following six by Heinrich Heine. After Schubert's death, the unpublished manuscripts of these songs were sold to publisher Tobias Haslinger, who wished to capitalize on the idea that these were the composer's final compositions. Haslinger grouped all the songs together, and published them under the title "Schwanengesang" (translated, "Swan Song"). The fourteenth song, the colorful and cheerful "Die Taubenpost," is considered Schubert's final composition. While it had no connection to the other thirteen songs in the set, it was included to underline the claim that the cycle was Schubert's final work.
"Liebesbotschaft" is the first song included in Schwanengesang, and the first of seven songs with text by German poet Ludwig Rellstab. In this poem, the singer enlists a small stream to carry his message of love back to a lover left behind, and to pass along his promise to return. Rellstab was a poet and music critic, and perhaps most famous today for coining the title "Moonlight Sonata" for Beethoven's popular Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# Minor. The seven Rellstab poems used in this set were originally intended for Beethoven, and had been left with the composer. However, having never been put to music before Beethoven's death, the poems were passed along to Schubert by Beethoven's former assistant.
In Schubert's setting of Rellstab's poem, the piano takes on the role of the stream. Its constant, consistent motion begins at the start of the piece and never releases until the end, representing the energetic and unceasing flow of the water. A busy rolling shape in the right hand creates the impression of the "babbling" stream. The voice then appears above the piano with smooth even lines, in obvious contrast to the sparkling texture beneath it. The voice seems to float on top of the water, as it conveys its message. The melody is broken into short, two-measure fragments. Each phrase seems to end with an unanswered question, perhaps suggesting the singer's unresolved longing to be with his lover. Each melodic fragment is followed by an interjection from the piano (or the stream), which seems to repeat or mimic the voice; as if to communicate that it has received and understood the message and will carry it along. As the singer finishes his last verse, the stream continues uninterrupted. The current of the piano flows relentlessly until the end, as the water flows along its way.