Notes for: July 24, 2007
This work and the “Trout” Quintet that follows share a similar source – each is an instrumental work based on an earlier song.
Schubert so much liked the idea of recalling an earlier vocal work in his instrumental music that he repeated the formula on at least ten occasions. His usual practice was to incorporate these musical references into longer instrumental works along with other musical material. In 1824, however, he also composed a free-standing set of variations on “Trockne Blumen” (Withered Flowers) from his song cycle Die schöne Müllerin.
Die schöne Müllerin – settings of 20 poems by Wilhelm Müller – tells the story of a young man who courts the beautiful daughter of a miller; things go well at first, but his happiness turns to bitterness when she marries another. “Trockne Blumen,” the 18th song in the cycle, is steeped in pathos, expressing the suicidal thoughts of a rejected lover.
The variations, for flute and piano, were written in January, 1824, for an old friend – Ferdinand Bogner, a professor at the Vienna conservatory and an expert flutist. Back in 1815, Schubert and Bogner had played together in the amateur orchestra for which Schubert had composed his second, third, fourth and fifth symphonies. They remained close friends, and in the 1820s were members of the same musical and social circle. Further, Bogner became head of the Gesellschaft der Osterreichischen Musikfruende (Austrian Philharmonic Society), Vienna’s leading group of musical dilettanti, and he arranged the initial public performance of several of Schubert’s songs.
In the instrumental treatment of his songs, Schubert generally adhered to the mood of the original. The “Trockne Blumen” variations are an exception. Here Schubert maintains the intensity of the original song only in the introduction and statement of the theme, the latter substantially condensed from the original. The seven ensuing variations, mainly a virtuoso test for the flutist and pianist, are effusive in spirit and culminate in a triumphal march.