Franz Schubert

Prometheus ("Bedecke deinen Himmel"), song for voice & piano, D. 674

    Description by James Leonard

    Prometheus was in the air in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Swift, Byron, Wordsworth, and both Mr. and Mrs. Shelley wrote about him in England, while Burger, Weiland, Herder, August von Schlegel, and of course Goethe wrote about him in German-speaking countries. Schubert himself treated the subject twice, first in 1816 in Prometheus Cantata (D. 451) -- unfortunately lost in the composer's lifetime -- and then again in his 1819 of this setting of Goethe's 1773 poem drawn from his incomplete drama. At this point in the drama, the Titan has created man in his image, "a race that shall...suffer, weep, enjoy, rejoice and ignore you [Zeus] as I do!," and is at the height of his fearless defiance. Needless to say, Goethe wrote no more, apparently unable to visualize Prometheus bound. Schubert's second Prometheus is as defiant of the rules of music as Goethe's poem is defiant of the rules of prosody. Set in seven sections separated by fermatas, Schubert's Prometheus is held together by nothing but its creator's genius and its own fury. After a five-bar piano introduction that moves through B flat major to A flat major to E flat major to the dominant of G minor, the first section is a bold recitative in G minor set over tremolo chords in the piano that ends back on the B flat major of the opening. But the second section quickly contradicts this with a slow hymn-like melody over evenly moving, four-part counterpoint in the piano starting in B flat minor but stopping a semitone lower on A major. This proves to be the dominant of D minor, the tonality in which the third section starts with a quiet arioso and ends on F major, the relative major of D minor and the dominant of B flat. But Schubert throws that all over when he begins the fourth section with a fortissimo diminished seventh chord thunderclap followed by another heroic recitative that seems to close once again on B flat major. This, too, proves illusory as Schubert starts the fifth section with a fast series of up-thrusting modulations under a plaintive melody that closes on a G sharp major chord. But this, too, is a mirage that fades from major to minor to start the brief, lamenting arioso of the sixth section that ends on a G major chord. This proves to be the dominant of the tonality of the final section, a fortissimo recitative in C major over courageous chords in the piano accompaniment. And it is in C major -- a whole tone above the tonic and in complete defiance of all the rules of music -- that Schubert ends his song of the Titan Prometheus.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4796018
    2014 CAvi-music AVI 8553302
    2014 Onyx / Onyx Classics ONYX 4131
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4791119
    2013 Challenge Classics CC 72600
    2012 Challenge Classics CC 72559
    2011 Naxos 8503801
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778989
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Sony Music Distribution / Sony Music Entertainment 8869757143
    2009 BBC Legends 42552
    2009 Sony Classical 88697451132
    2008 Berlin Classics 0184332
    2007 Audite 95583
    2005 Orfeo D'Or 339050
    2005 Hyperion 44201
    2005 Tudor Records 7110
    2005 Berlin Classics 0030422
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4775765
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2004 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4770842
    2003 DG Deutsche Grammophon 000004902
    2001 History 205153
    2001 Rca Red Seal 86952
    2000 BBC Music 4404
    2000 Orfeo 507991
    2000 Orfeo D'Or 529001
    1999 Naxos 8 554665
    1999 DG Deutsche Grammophon 457747
    1999 Arcana 37
    1998 MDG 3210835
    1998 Berlin Classics 0093182BC
    1997 London 452917
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 566154-2
    1995 Preiser Records 93145
    1995 RCA 61864
    1995 Orfeo 140101
    1995 Orfeo 21821
    1993 DG Deutsche Grammophon 437225
    History 205158
    BBC Music 8011
    EMI Music Distribution 2224
    Hyperion 33034
    Documents 223210303