Commercially Available CDs

Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin (The Beautiful Maid of the Mill), D795

John Elwes, tenor; Kenneth Slowik, fortepiano


In Franz Schubert’s first song cycle to words by the Prussian poet Wilhelm Müller, we find conjoined two powerful forces—music and myth—at maximum intensity. If the beauty of this music has long been recognized, the full extent of its mythic dimension, its confrontation with what is inexplicable in existence, has not. Because the human mind cannot plumb the mysteries of life, death, creation, Nature, the soul, evil, and desire entirely by factual-scientific means, we tell stories in which archetypal figures play archetypal roles. When we read myth, we feel a shock of recognition, impelled not by the surface trappings of the story but by its underlying psychological verity. The greatest creative geniuses routinely traffic in myth which they make modern, fashioned both to be in accord with their own time and place and to endure beyond it. Sophocles’s Oedipus, Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and Othello (and many other characters in Shakespeare) are just such mythical beings—and so too is Müller’s and Schubert’s miller lad. This story of blighted youth is especially rich: it tells what happens when idealistic, immature notions of love taken from fiction are blasted by the grittier actualities of sex, when body meets body not on the printed page but in real life. Like Don Quixote, the young protagonist of this story has read the wrong books and tried to live by them, and he too, like Cervantes’s gaunt knight, is done to death by unwelcome knowledge. And yet, the miller lad, who dies a disillusioned death by his own hand, is an unforgettable mythic embodiment of a universal experience. What adult does not remember the moment when adolescent imaginings gave way to sexual knowledge, and we too, in company with all of humanity, left the Garden of Eden?

                                                                      —from Susan Youens’ liner notes


Lyrics to “Am Feieraband”

Am Feieraband

Hätt’ ich tausend Arme zu rühren!
Könnt’ ich brausend die Räder führen!
Könnt’ ich wehen durch alle Haine!
Könnt’ ich drehen alle Steine!
Daß die schöne Müllerin
Merkte meinen treuen Sinn!

Ach, wie ist mein Arm so schwach!
Was ich hebe, was ich trage,
Was ich schneide, was ich schlage,
Jeder Knappe tut mir’s nach.
Und da sitz’ ich in der großen Runde,
In der stillen, kühlen Feierstunde,
Und der Meister sagt zu allen:
“Euer Werk hat mir gefallen.”
Und das liebe Mädchen sagt
Allen eine gute Nacht.

When the Day’s Work is Done

If only I had a thousand arms to wield!
If only I could drive the rushing wheels!
If only I could blow through all the woods,
if only I could turn all the mill-stones
so that the beautiful miller maid
would see my true love!

Oh, how weak my arms are!
What I can lift, what I can carry,
what I can cut, what I can hammer,
any apprentice can do too.
And there I sit with them in a circle,
in the quiet, cool leisure hour,
and the master says to us all:
“I am pleased with your work.”
And the dear maiden
bids us all goodnight.

Listen to “Am Feieraband”

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The musical partnership of the former head chorister at Westminster Cathedral in London and the present artistic director of the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society in Washington is an extremely fruitful one. As there are several fine recordings of Die schöne Müllerin available at the moment, the competition is understandably fierce. Nevertheless, with the fine singing of John Elwes, the exceptional support provided by Kenneth Slowik, and the added bonus of the historically authentic sound of a ca. 1830 Graf fortepiano from the Smithsonian’s rich collection, this disk must be reckoned among the front runners.

—The Schubertian (Journal of the Schubert Institute, London)
On this album: 

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Die schöne Müllerin, d795