Entr’acte No. 3 in B-flat major from Incidental Music for the Play Rosamunde, D.797
Franz Peter Schubert was born in Liechtental, a suburb of Vienna, on January 31, 1797, and died in Vienna on November 19, 1828. He wrote ten pieces of incidental music for Helmina von Chézy’s pastoral drama Rosamunde in 1823, and they were first heard when that drama was premiered in Vienna on December 20 that year. The first performance of Rosamunde music in this country was given on January 22, 1853, in Boston by the Germania Musical Society with Carl Bergmann conducting. The first San Francisco Symphony subscription performances of the Entr’acte No. 3 were in November 1927, under the direction of Alfred Hertz. The most recent subscription performances, in May 1978, were led by Edo de Waart. The score for the number we hear this evening calls for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns, plus strings. Performance time: about five minutes.
Helmina von Chézy is remembered today for other people’s accomplishments. She was Carl Maria von Weber’s librettist for his opera Euryanthe, and she authored Rosamunde, a play for which Franz Schubert composed ten musical numbers. She had little sense of drama. Her text for Euryanthe still hobbled after eleven rewrites. That Schubert associated himself with her is a measure of his eagerness to have a theatrical hit, or his desperation. Among Rosamunde’s characters are a prince who lives among shepherds, and a villain who owns poisoned letters that kill whoever reads them. Material like that is not promising. Rosamunde closed after two performances, although critics enjoyed the music.
The delicately turned lyrics that Schubert set as choruses do something to redeem von Chézy’s reputation, for they suggest an author with a talent for forms more modestly scaled than evening-long dramas. The Third Entr’acte from Rosamunde is itself on a modest scale. It begins with a lovely figure that Schubert might have reserved for one of his songs. What is most apt to impress us, though, is the way the music continues, with gentle writing for strings that sounds like proto-Schumann. Music more characteristic of Schubert and the Austrian countryside is also introduced, but proto-Schumann returns at the end. The Entr’acte is a delight, and a perfect way to accustom the ear to Schumann himself.
More About the Music
Recordings: For Schubert’s complete Rosamunde music, Kurt Masur conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Leipzig Radio Chorus (Philips/ArkivCD) | Claudio Abbado conducting the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Ernst Senff Chamber Choir (Deutsche Grammophon)
Reading: Schubert: The Music and the Man, by Brian Newbould (Gollancz) | Schubert: A Documentary Biography, by Otto Erich Deutsch (Dent; reprinted Da Capo) | Schubert and his World: A Biographical Dictionary, by Peter Clive (Oxford)