Schubert’s music for the play Rosamunde is now one of his best-known compositions. But it was almost lost. The New Schubert Edition now presents the work in an authoritative version.
Franz Schubert’s music to Helmina von Chézy’s play Rosamunde, Fürstin von Cypern was composed in December 1823 for the Theater an der Wien. Chézy and Carl Maria von Weber had had a flop in October with their opera Euryanthe – now the poet wanted to rehabilitate herself as quickly as possible with Viennese audiences.
A glance at the sources reveals how rapidly the performance of Rosamunde was prepared: the actress Emilie Neumann made her benefit performances on 20 and 21 December available at short notice. Schubert only received a commission at the beginning of December to compose the overture and at least three entr’actes, two ballets, three choruses and a song for the drama. Hurriedly (and with many mistakes...) ten copyists copied the orchestral parts out from scores, some of which only arrived at the theatre two days before the premiere. During the rehearsals, Schubert altered the orchestration of the overture, which he had borrowed from his opera Alfonso und Estrella because of shortage of time. The new volume in the New Schubert Edition takes these alterations and many details from the original material into consideration, for example, concerning the repeats in the ballet.
Chézy’s story about the shepherdess Rosamunde, who becomes a princess overnight, turned out to be a trivial Gothic novel. Although the poet had distanced herself from spectacular Viennese productions, Rosamunde’s pastoral idyll was powerfully enlivened by a shipwreck, pirates, abduction, apparitions and an attempted murder by poisoning. All this was based on so many absurdities and coincidences that the audience was bored and the press reacted critically.
But Schubert’s music was acclaimed; the overture and a Hunters’ Chorus even had to be repeated. He had conceived his incidental music with care. Just how precisely he responded to the requirements of the theatre is shown by a fermata mark in the ballet no. 9 (bar 58), for example: here, the music in the middle of the movement is scored triple pianissimo, and leads directly into the scene – a detail which the New Schubert Edition corrects in comparison with the “concert ending” which later became established. The composer also made numerous thematic-motivic links between individual numbers, combined sequential pieces through related keys, and established the mood of the respective scene. Thus, the second entr’acte (no. 3a) anticipates the menacing turn of events in the third act through references to the Chorus of Spirits in the villain’s workshop (no. 4).
These subtle links which depend upon Schubert’s original sequence are unfortunately often ignored in modern performances, by rearranging the numbers arbitrarily. Their exact placement in the drama can, however, no longer be reconstructed, as the original version has been lost and only a later, drastically altered version has survived.
Despite the failure of Rosamunde the publisher Sauer & Leidesdorf offered the incidental music for hire in March 1824 and printed a vocal score of the romance “Der Vollmond strahlt”. But there were no further productions of the drama. The printing of the choruses was also delayed until after Schubert’s death. Schubert himself had the overture printed under its earlier title Alfonso und Estrella. Only a few of Schubert’s contemporaries protested when Diabelli Verlag published the overture to the play Die Zauberharfe as Rosamunde in 1839. Whether this misattribution was due to confusion or calculation on the part of the publisher is not known. The Zauberharfe overture is still performed today as “Rosamunde”, although the re-designation did not originate from Schubert.
Rosamunde, one of Schubert’s most popular works, soon fell into oblivion after its premiere. The scores of the ballets and entr’actes were only rediscovered in 1865. It is only thanks to the persistence of two Schubert enthusiasts, George Grove and Arthur Sullivan, that the parts from the theatre, deep in dust, were discovered at Schubert’s nephew’s. And so it is possible for the choruses and the now-famous romance to be performed again in their original form with orchestral accompaniment. The forthcoming concert performances in Vienna and London will constitute a new chapter in the performance tradition which has remained uninterrupted to the present day.
(from [t]akte 1/2015 – translation: Elizabeth Robinson)