Schubert's Song Die Forelle, The Trout

Schubert's Song Die Forelle, The Trout

Schubert's song Die Forelle, Deutsche No. 550 is an ideal introduction to the genre of the Lied, in which the composer wrote many hundreds of songs exploring the art of writing German Leider which developed through the 19th century. Essentially the German Lied consists of singer and piano intertwined together. Often, as in the case of Die Forelle, the piano accompaniment contributes as much to the music as the singer and vice versa. In the case of Die Forelle it's perfectly possible to sing the musical line on its own but what you lose is the word painting in the piano accompaniment, which expresses so perfectly the rippling of the brook and which adds so much colour to the harmonies, especially in the final verse of the song.

The original poem, by Christian Friedrich Schubart, who was part of Schubert's wide circle of friends, was published in 1782. It contains four verses but Schubert decided to omit the last one as it is (according to John Reed in The Schubert Song Companion, 1985, pub. Manchester University Press) rather didactic in nature, warning young ladies against gentlemen with rods!

Schubert wrote no less than four published versions of the song, the earliest of which according to Reed dates to 1817. The final version was written in 1821 and the tune was then later used in the theme and variations movement within Schubert's great quintet Die Forelle D.667.

The story line of the song is not particularly exciting - the poet watches a fisherman and sees the trout in the clear waters of the stream. He realises that the fisherman is unlikely to have much luck because the trout is so quick - and then the fisherman muddies the water by stamping in it, and catches the trout. It's all so sudden that the poet can't believe it.

Schubert turns this simple poem into one of his greatest songs. The first two verses are simple melodic, slightly folk tune in style with the pretty rippling accompaniment though the best Leid singers will impact some drama into even these as they tell the story. Then in the third verse Schubert uses the dramatic change to the minor key with some near recitativo style singing, while the piano continues the rippling accompaniment to take the music back to the major key for the finish.

This song is one that you will listen to again and again. There are many, many recordings of it but one of the best is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore, which is available as an MP3 download from Amazon. Alternatively, The Hyperion Schubert Edition 21 / Edith Mathis, Graham Johnson will be another excellent addition to any musical library as it contains not only Die Forelle, but a representative selection of some of Schubert's other greatest Leider. I strongly recommend using Amazon's listening facilities to hear the singers as they do provide online clips to allow an informed choice.

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