FRANZ SCHUBERT Swan Serenade
Austrian composer Schubert features for the first time in this series with a simple but elegant melody transcribed for us
Bridget Mermikides arranges and transcribes another captivating piece for solo nylon-string guitar, this time from the Austrian genius.
In this issue we are going to tackle for the first time a work by the great composer Franz Schubert. Despite barely reaching his 30s, Schubert produced over one and a half thousand works, including 20 string quartets, seven completed symphonies, several masses and operas and a staggering number (over 600) songs for piano and voice. In one year alone he composed over 20,000 bars of music (half of them for orchestra).
Throughout this remarkable productivity, he demonstrated an active experimentalism and brilliance; and developed his style to great maturity and sophistication. With his creativity and output only increasing, Schubert’s life was tragically struck short by an illness. His genius was largely only recognised by a circle of friends and astute listeners but he has since joined the pantheon of great composers of Western Art music.
Here I’ve selected one of the last pieces Schubert composed, from his collection of 14 songs for piano and voice (written in his final year and only published posthumously) known as Schwanengesang (Swan Song). These songs were later transcribed for solo piano by Franz Liszt and since then for a range of ensembles and instruments. I’ve chosen No 4 from the set known simply as Ständchen (Serenade) a setting of a poem by the German poet Ludwig Rellstab in which the protagonist urges his sweetheart to fulfill him.
The simple and elegant melody is supported by a sophisticated bitter-sweet harmony that combines the chords from both A Minor and A Minor with supple voice-leading with extraordinary deftness and accessibility. Rhythmically, there are number of examples of quaver triplets over crotchet accompaniments (eg bars 5-7) that require a relaxed absorption of that rhythm as well as technical coordination, so make sure that you
YOU’LL NEED A DEGREE OF FLUENCY IN YOUR FRETTING HAND AS MANY OF THESE CHORD SHIFTS REQUIRE A LEVEL OF FAMILIARITY WITH THE WORK
execute these correctly without rushing either voice. You’ll also need to develop a degree of fluency in your fretting hand as many of these chord shifts require a level of familiarity with the work. It’s also essential you understand what the melody is that you are trying to express, so do listen to the recording and the suggested listening so that you can play this wonderful piece with your own expression.