Franz Schubert

Sections from Rosamunde

Born in Vienna, Austria, January 31, 1797; died in Vienna, November 19, 1828

It is one of music's ironies that Franz Schubert, possibly the greatest song writer of all time and one who could pack a whole drama into one lied, should have been so unsuccessful writing for the theater. At the height of Rossini's popularity in Vienna's opera houses, Schubert longed to make his fame and fortune with operas of his own. His lack of success was no reflection on his musical ability; instead, it was due to his careless choice of inept librettos that were laughed off the stage by contemporary audiences. Perhaps if he had lived past 31, he would have corrected this problem and composed his own Barber of Seville or Magic Flute.

Today his theatrical and operatic scores are largely forgotten except for the charming incidental music he wrote for Rosamunde in 1823 and the vivacious overture mistakenly associated with it. Actually, the so-called Rosamunde Overture was written for an earlier play with music, Die Zauberharfe (“The Magic Harp”) written in the summer of 1820 for Vienna's Theater an der Wien. It was renamed when a publisher accidentally included it in a piano arrangement of the Rosamunde music in 1827.

Here's how the contemporary critic Schlecta described Die Zauberharfe: “Take one good and one evil magician, who are at loggerheads with each other; then take a lunatic young lady of noble ancestry living in the ruins of a castle, a blubbering father and a spell-bound son; add a few absurd knights . . . and finally ten or twelve monsters, the more fantastic the better. Mix these ingredients with a bucket of tears, a handful of sighs and a solid lump of ridiculous magic. Stew the concoction until it is completely unintelligible — and the dish of nonsense is then ready to serve.”

Fortunately, this best-loved of Schubert's overtures shines above this play's absurdity. It includes a slow introduction containing a beautiful Italian-style aria for oboes and clarinets, followed by an energetic Allegro section featuring a dashing principal theme introduced by the violins.

The three pieces of incidental music we’ll also hear really are from Rosamunde, Princess of Cyprus, which unfortunately lasted for only two performances on the Viennese stage. First we hear the Ballet in B minor from Act II, which begins with brass-powered drama, but closes in beautiful, melancholy lyricism. One of Schubert’s most famous and enchanting lyrical melodies keeps returning throughout the Entr’acte following Act III, which also features particularly wonderful music for the woodwinds. The winsome Ballet Music in G Major from Act IV captures the ingratiating charm of Austrian rural folk dance.

Notes by Janet E. Bedell copyright 2018