Alban Berg

Grabschrift, song for voice & piano (from "Jugendlieder")

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Grabschrift is the last song in the first volume of Alban Berg's Jugendlieder as they were originally published by Universal Edition in 1985. Composed in 1904, the song is one of several Jugendlieder to explore a graveyard theme: Grabschrift means, literally, "Grave-Writing" -- in other words, an epitaph. Human mortality became a topic of passionate, perhaps even unhealthy interest to the teenage Berg (reflection on human life and death can be a new and, in strange contradiction to the topic itself, invigorating experience for teenage men and women, far removed as they generally are from facing their worldly ends -- Berg was no different), and an inordinate number of Jugendlieder texts contain the word "Grabe" (grave) in one form or another.

    The poem set in Grabschrift was written by Ludwig Jakobowski, who had himself died and been given a Grabschrift some four years before Berg wrote the song. In the poem, the poet/singer is struck by the power of a particular epitaph etched into a sunken marble tombstone: "Dem Auge fern, dem Herzen nah" -- The eye far, the heart near, or, perhaps better said in English, "Far from view, close at heart." The song begins and ends with these words, quiet reflective, tender; but in-between is an impassioned fortissimo outburst: "O God, a thousand times I've written the same tormented song, but never so well as this." The pianist's hands draw banging syncopations and eruptive arpeggios as the singer cries out, remembering his/her own departed loved one, the motion and emotion quelled only at the very end by the comforting words, "Dem Auge fern, dem Herzen nah."

    Appears On

    Year Title / Performer Label / Catalog # AllMusic Rating
    Centaur Records
    CRC 3459
    Col Legno
    Sony Classical
    Capriccio Records
    EMI Music Distribution