The songs or lieders made by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert, although of the same origin, are totally different when analyzed side by side. For a brief history, the song is from the poem “Do you know the land where the lemon trees bloom? ” and is written as a part of the novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship. This was the script for the actor of Mignon, a lady whom Wilhelm encounters on his travels. The two composers perfectly created a melody each distinct from each other, showing their vast differences in terms of style, knowledge, and even understanding of the poem itself.
In listening and discerning these pieces, one must understand the two composers had different theories and practices pertaining to composition. This would help in understanding the songs even better. A very noticeable fact, even for first time listeners would be the difference in the overall structure of the songs. Franz Schubert’s song seems to be composed of two main parts, a verse followed by a chorus, then repeated again for a number of times. But it can’t be helped to notice that the chorus is of a different mood, and totally contrasting to the preceding verse.
The verses have hints of sorrow, and mystery to it while the chorus is almost like a jolly tune in terms of melody and rhythm. Hugo Wolf’s piece on the other hand was slow, mellow and dark all throughout. The whole song also seemed to flow continually, with different melodies happening every time. There was still a chorus type of part, which was repeated for about three times during the song. But unlike Schubert’s contrasting themes, Wolf’s chorus only intensified the dark and minor theme of the song.
In Wolf’s composition, the use of a very thick texture is dominant in the chorus. The piano plays the bass part heavily, while his use of the hamper pedal occasionally brings up a very striking minor melody. It is also more chromatic compared to Schubert’s, which is predominantly diatonic. On Schubert’s side, there is a lesser change of texture during the parts of the song, but more on rhythm change. There are some instances however, like when the chorus ends, where a very appropriate change in volume occurs that signifies the end of that part.
Although the sudden return of the verse gives away the sense of texture that could have occurred. In a whole, Schubert’s song seemed to be played straightforward, but his change of mood gives the listener a type of excitement. The two songs also differ greatly in the vocal parts sung by the singer. In Schubert’s arrangement, the voice seems to be very attached to the piano’s melody. Almost as if the piano was playing the exact melody the singer is singing. There is also less change in power, but more of, as said earlier rhythm change.
The singer shifts from legato lines to staccato-like phrases beautifully but keeps her volume and projection at an almost constant level, except for the ends of the choruses where she follows the rising tone of the accompaniment. The singer also had a wider range of notes to work with. In contrast with Wolf’s piano lines, the melody only seems to support the singer, to provide a cushion on which the singers sing on. This is very evident during the chorus parts where the melody played a stream of sad notes completely off with the singers rhythm.
The singer stayed at a constant feel, increasing the projection and power as the accompaniment does. I can say that in Wolf’s song, the singer would have worked harder in hitting those notes with the right amount of power. The range of notes are very much wider than that of Schubert’s. These and many more differences on the two compositions show a much deeper idea in composing other than just scales and notes. By thoroughly understanding the poem and the two song arrangements, we can make a conclusion regarding the view of the composers in regard with the said poem.
In summary, the poem seems to be questions by the singer to a certain someone. The singers hopes of finding a place, somewhere where the lemon trees blossom and the roof rests on the pillar of the house. Franz Schubert may have viewed this as a two mood poem – the solemn, sad part where the singer asks the questions and a happy one where the singer got a kind of excitement in knowing that the place was found. This is very much portrayed in his composition. By using two totally different rhythm and modes, he is able to allow the listener to perceive a change in the singer’s mood.
It is as if the singer found hope in her questions. The continuously sad atmosphere of Wolf’s piece on the other hand may suggest that Wolf sees Mignon as a woman of a dark and mysterious background. Something where happiness may be drawn out of her, and the questions asked were in hope of desperation. Finally, the songs differ in terms of their effect to the listener. Schubert’s song kept on resolving every time the chorus was sung. It is evident that there are only two major parts, and a very well made fake ending covered the real one.
It is as if the song had been repeating after the first set was done. This leaves a distinction of hominess, where the listeners tend to feel relieved, safe, at home. The diatonic nature of the song and the frequent tonic tone heard helps in providing this certain feeling. But for Wolf, the chromatism and dissonance created a lot of tension during the songs. Wolf is known for avoiding resolving at the home key when not needed. This song shows much of this character, as there is a sense of floating when one hears it.
Wolf also tries to avoid the common strophic type of songs. He likes building his melody as he goes along, making verses differ from each other. These two songs are great manifestations of their composers’ ideas. Each has different structures and quality, none of which is inferior to the other. By analyzing these, we can conclude that composers not only compose the melody, but they also create a certain atmosphere on which the listeners can submerge to, by using different styles. And Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf’s songs are great examples of these.