Schubert’s Song Cycle

Franz Schubert’s “Die Schöne Müllerin, D. 795 (Op. 25)” is a song cycle based on poetry by Wilhelm Müller.  The work contains 20 songs which tell the story of a journeyman who falls in love with a miller’s daughter.  Schubert wrote this piece for piano and solo tenor, and each song reflects the part of the story being told.  When the journeyman is traveling, the music is jolly and energetic.  When the hunter becomes a rival for the miller’s daughter’s affections, the music is stormy, fast, and aggressive.  The song cycle ends with a tender lullaby that the brook by the mill sings after the journeyman has drowned himself.

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and Wilhelm Müller (1794-1827)

Throughout the song cycle, Schubert showcases the potential of piano and tenor voice, and each of his songs is creative and beautiful.  The songs evoke a range of emotions from happiness to melancholy to anger to jealousy to delight.  Sometimes the piano is a rippling, bubbling brook; other times it is a tender pulse of sadness.  The piano and tenor voice complement each other, and Schubert uses them like a duet instead of as a soloist and accompaniment.  One of my favorite parts is when Schubert’s songs sound like the predecessors of Scott Joplin’s music.

“Die Schöne Müllerin” by Franz Schubert tells its story beautifully through its unique and lovely cycle of songs, and Schubert’s melodies in this piece reveal he was a master of his art.

♪ Note: To learn more about Schubert and his works, come back in a week and read Caroline Bennett’s next article, which will be about the Austrian composer’s life and music.