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An arrangement for Cor Anglais of Schubert’s Serenade, number 4 from his Schwanengesang, D. 957, is one of his best-loved songs. The Swan Song collects Schubert’s last songs from 1828. The first seven set poems by Ludwig Rellstab.
Schwanengesang ("Swan song") D 957 (Deutsch catalogue) is the title of a posthumous collection of songs by Franz Schubert.
The collection was named by its first publisher Tobias Haslinger, presumably wishing to present it as Schubert's final musical testament to the world. Unlike the earlier Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, it contains settings of three poets, Ludwig Rellstab (1799–1860), Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) and Johann Gabriel Seidl (1804–1875). Schwanengesang was composed 1828 and published in 1829 just a few months after the composer's death on 19 November 1828.
In the original manuscript in Schubert's hand, the first 13 songs were copied in a single sitting, on consecutive manuscript pages, and in the standard performance order. All the song titles are by Schubert, as Heine did not give names to the poems. (Reed 259) Tobias Haslinger, Schubert's publisher, collected the songs together as a cycle, most probably for financial reasons, as Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise sold very well as collections. Taubenpost is considered to be Schubert's last Lied.
Franz Liszt later transcribed these songs for solo piano.
Schubert also set to music a poem named Schwanengesang D744 by Johann Senn, unrelated to this collection.
We still don’t know exactly where the idiom “Swansong” actually originated, but presently we use it to mean a last effort or final production coming from someone in a respective field before retirement, or sometimes, death. It is probably most familiar to us from the world of sports, “with Kobe Bryant scoring 60 points in his final game, or Peyton Manning winning the Super Bowl in his last season.”
The concept that swans sing a beautiful song just before death has a long pedigree in Western thought, and the Greek philosopher Socrates is credited with saying “Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are.” The proverbial singing swan, used as a metaphor for the final great effort, becomes a much-embraced concept in the arts, literature, and music, as exemplified in the famous madrigal setting by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625).
The silver Swan, who living had no Note, when Death approached, unlocked her silent throat. Leaning her breast against the reedy shore, thus sang her first and last, and sang no more: “Farewell, all joys! O Death, come close mine eyes! More Geese than Swans now live, more Fools than Wise.”
Franz Schubert’s final and horribly painful days in November 1828 included bouts of delirium, requests for novels by James Fennimore Cooper, ceaseless singing and moments of great lucidity when he was working on his compositions. Schubert had been seriously ill for some time, but it’s impossible to tell by the quantity and consistency of his compositions. “In just his final 14 weeks, he wrote his last three piano sonatas, and the heart-melting C-Major String Quintet.” A few short months after Schubert’s death, the Viennese publisher Tobias Haslinger published a group of fourteen Schubert songs composed to texts by three different poets. Wishing to present this publication as Schubert’s final musical testament to the world, Haslinger and Schubert’s brother Ferdinand entitled the collection Schwanengesang (Swansong). Containing some of the greatest Lieder that Schubert ever composed, there is still disagreement about whether or not Schwanengesang is actually a cycle.
There are contradictory accounts concerning the origin of Schubert’s thirteen songs with lyrics by Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine, published together with “Die Taubenpost,” with lyrics by Johann Gabriel Seidl. In the original manuscript in Schubert’s hand, the first 13 songs were copied in a single setting, on consecutive manuscript pages, and in the standard performance order. There is some suggestion that Schubert had intended to publish the settings of Rellstab and Heine separately, as he offered the Heine set of poems to the Leipzig publisher Probst. “Die Taubenpost,” meanwhile, has no connection to any of the first 13 songs and was appended by Haslinger to round out Schubert’s Schwanengesang. Rellstab’s poems passed to Schubert via Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s assistant. It has been suggested “almost every song in Schwanengesang deals with love or it’s absence, linking it to Beethoven’s “An die ferne Geliebte.” The Rellstab set ranges from the singer inviting a stream to convey a message to his beloved in the opening “Liebesbotschaft” (Message of love), to the concluding “Abschied” (Farewell) when the singer bids a cheery but determined farewell to a town he must now leave forever.