Compared to Franz Schubert's two 'true' song cycles, Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, Schwanengesang poses far more questions – to performers, listeners and musicologists alike. It is in fact a compilation of two different sets of songs, to texts by Ludwig Rellstab (seven songs) and Heinrich Heine (six). In his manuscript, dated 'August 1828’, Schubert wrote out the songs without any title page or numbering. Following the composer's death three months later, the publisher Tobias Haslinger added the single song Die Taubenpost, written in October 1828, and brought out the posthumous collection entitled, appropriately, 'Swan Song'. How, or indeed if, Schubert himself intended to combine these songs, we do not know – and rather than a cycle developing a single narrative thread or state of mind, they form a series of masterful snapshots of all that life can offer. (The four miscellaneous songs which close this programme serve as a further demonstration of the astonishing versatility of their maker and his boundless musical resourcefulness.) As a result performances of Schwanengesang usually vary, with certain songs left out, unrelated songs being included, and the order of the songs adapted according to the occasion. During the 15 years that they have collaborated on these songs, James Rutherford and Eugene Asti, have done all of the above, but for their recording of the collection they have decided to stay as close to the original as possible, with the exception of including Herbst, another Rellstab setting from Schubert's final year. Schubert's manuscript is written for high voice, and Rutherford and Asti has chosen to transpose each song down a minor third – a seemingly obvious decision, but in fact this recording is one of the few, if not the only, by a baritone in which the original tonal relationships between the songs is retained.
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