The Kennedy Center

"An Sylvia", Op. 106

About the Work

Franz Schubert Composer: Franz Schubert
© Peter Laki

Franz Peter Schubert was born in Himmelpfortgrund, near Vienna (now part of the city) on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828. He wrote the songs heard at this weekend’s concerts between 1814 and 1826.

The six songs performed at this weekend’s concerts run a total of approxximately 25 minutes in performance.



The German word Lied (song) has found its way into the English language, denoting a special variety of piano-accompanied song set to German lyrics. The Lied evolved from more modest antecedents into one of the major Romantic genres, largely owing to the genius of a single composer, Franz Schubert. Schubert was able to evoke the most passionate drama in a few minutes of music, and he could achieve transcendence by the simplest means imaginable. Schubert’s songs were not written for the concert hall but for the informal musical evenings so dear to the composer and his friends. At these evenings, Schubert would sit at the piano and accompany singers like Johann Michael Vogl, longtime member of the Court Opera, or such well-trained amateurs as Karl Schönstein. Schubert himself had a pleasant singing voice, having started his career as a choirboy in the Vienna Stadtkonvikt (Imperial and Royal City College).




Schubert wrote more than 600 songs, of which fewer than a third were printed during his lifetime. The songs didn’t begin to circulate more widely until decades after the composer’s death. If Schubert’s music gradually came into its own with performers and audiences, it was largely through the efforts of composers such as Robert Schumann, who discovered the manuscript of the ?Great C-Major” symphony; Felix Mendelssohn, who conducted the premiere; Franz Liszt, who popularized Schubert’s music through numerous transcriptions; and Johannes Brahms, who was one of the driving forces behind the publication of Schubert’s collected works.




One of the consequences of this newly-found enthusiasm for Schubert was that the songs broke out of the isolation of private homes and entered the world’s great concert halls. It was soon realized that because of their great richness in colors, Schubert’s piano parts lent themselves admirably to orchestration. Although some of the intimacy of the songs was bound to get lost in the process, the orchestral arrangements enhanced the dramatic power and depth of feeling inherent in the music. They also reveal a great deal about how Schubert was seen by successive generations of composers.




IV.  An Sylvia, D. 891 (1826)

To Silvia

words by William Shakespeare (1564-1616), from The Two Gentlemen of Verona

orchestration:  anonymous


Was ist Silvia, saget an,

Daß sie die weite Flur preist?

Schön und zart seh ich sie nahn,

Auf Himmelsgunst und Spur weist,

Daß ihr alles untertan.


Ist sie schön und gut dazu?

Reiz labt wie milde Kindheit;

Ihrem Aug' eilt Amor zu,

Dort heilt er seine Blindheit

Und verweilt in süßer Ruh.


Darum Silvia, tön, o Sang,

Der holden Silvia Ehren;

Jeden Reiz besiegt sie lang,

Den Erde kann gewähren:

Kränze ihr und Saitenklang!


(Transl.  Eduard von Bauernfeld, 1802-1890)



Who is Silvia? what is she,

That all our swains commend her?

Holy, fair and wise is she;

The heavens such grace did lend her,

That she might admiréd be.


Is she kind as she is fair?

For beauty lives with kindness.

Love doth to her eyes repair,

To help him of his blindness,

And being helped, inhabits there.


Then to Silvia let us sing,

That Silvia is excelling;

She excels each mortal thing

Upon the dull earth dwelling;

To her let us garlands bring.