The Kennedy Center

"Die Forelle" ("The Trout") for Soprano and Piano, D550

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.  

I. Die Forelle, D. 550 (1817)

The Trout

words by Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart (1739-1791)

orchestrated in 1942 by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

In einem Bächlein helle,
Da schoß in froher Eil
Die launische Forelle
Vorüber wie ein Pfeil.
Ich stand an dem Gestade
Und sah in süßer Ruh
Des muntern Fischleins Bade
Im klaren Bächlein zu.

Ein Fischer mit der Rute
Wohl an dem Ufer stand,
Und sah's mit kaltem Blute,
Wie sich das Fischlein wand.
So lang dem Wasser Helle,
So dacht ich, nicht gebricht,
So fängt er die Forelle
Mit seiner Angel nicht.

Doch endlich ward dem Diebe
Die Zeit zu lang. Er macht
Das Bächlein tückisch trübe,
Und eh ich es gedacht,
So zuckte seine Rute,
Das Fischlein zappelt dran,
Und ich mit regem Blute
Sah die Betrog'ne an.
In a bright little brook
a capricious trout
shot past in merry haste
like an arrow.
I stood upon the shore
and watched in sweet peace
the cheery fish's bath
in the clear little brook.

A fisher with his rod
stood at the water-side,
and watched with cold blood
as the fish swam about.
So long as the clearness of the water
remained intact, I thought,
he would not be able to capture the trout
with his fishing rod.

But finally the thief grew weary
of waiting. He stirred up
the brook and made it muddy,
and before I realized it,
his fishing rod was twitching:
the fish was squirming there,
and with raging blood
I gazed at the deceived fish.

(Transl. Emily Ezust)