Franz Schubert

Amphiaraos ("Vor Thebens siebenfach"), song for voice & piano, D. 166

    Description by James Leonard

    One of Schubert's best inventions in his maturity was his creation of the song cycle, a series of related songs which tell a particular story about a particular character. Perhaps Schubert was led to invent the song cycle because so many of his youthful attempts to tell a particular story about a particular character in long ballads were such failures. His setting of Theodor Körner's Amphiaraos (D. 166), on March 1, 1815, is just such a failure, although a more honorable failure than most of Schubert's ballads. The song's relative brevity -- seven verses taking less than seven minutes in performance -- is a mitigating factor, but a more important inspiration might have been the duty that Schubert felt to the memory of his friend Körner. Körner's poem tells the story of the Greek hero who dies an honorable death in battle and, ironically, Körner himself died in battle during the Austrian wars of independence against Napoleon. Thus there is an earnestness to opening music of Amphiaraos which almost redeems it from the trite central and closing music. The first verse's piano overture and recitative are fairly stirring; the second and third verses' heroic march effectively continues the martial mood of the opening; and the fourth verse's stunning realization of impending doom is brilliantly set to a forceful instrumental recitative. But the fifth and sixth verses' battle music is by rote, and the seventh verse's denouement seems altogether too abrupt for the buildup it has received. Perhaps setting Körner's poem as a song cycle would not have succeeded either, but the song pointed toward Schubert's ambitions in larger vocal forms.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2011 Naxos 8503801
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4778989
    2008 Naxos 8570067
    2005 Hyperion 44201
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon 4775765
    2005 DG Deutsche Grammophon
    1993 DG Deutsche Grammophon 437215
    1992 Hyperion 33014
    1992 Universal Music Classics and Jazz