[SnarkNotes] FRANZ SCHUBERT: Der Zwerg

[First published on Snark [music] Notes on 30/01/2016]


FRANZ SCHUBERT: Der Zwerg

The lyrics to Schubert’s lied, Der Zwerg (1822), are taken from a Romantic ballad written by Matthäus von Collin. Although the music is undoubtedly powerful, the story of the failed romance between a lady and a dwarf is somewhat more suspect…

Opening rhythm, which also appears in his ‘Unfinished’ symphony, was often used by Schubert to symbolise erotic undertones.

Huh, it’s like the nineteenth-century equivalent of a trigger warning. How considerate.

‘In the grey light the mountains already fade away; the ship drifts on the sea’s smooth swell.’

Ahem… “swell”? I take your ‘erotic undertones’ and expose them to the world!

‘On board, the queen sails with her dwarf.’

What, like, her pet dwarf? That’s disturbing.

‘She gazes up at the high curving vault, at the far blue distance, woven with strands of light, crossed by the pale band of the milky way.’

That’s poetic. I mean, obviously it’s poetic – it’s a poem. But still, I appreciate the colourful word-painting.

‘She cries out: “Never yet have you lied to me, stars. Soon I shall depart. You tell me so. In truth, I’ll gladly die.”‘

ASTROLOGY™, leading gullible young lovers to their deaths since the tragedies of Ancient Greece.

‘The dwarf steps towards the queen, to tie the red silk cord about her neck; and weeps, as though he meant to blind himself with grief.’

A red silk cord, huh? And I thought the nineteenth century was meant to be all sexually repressed and stuff…

‘He speaks: “You yourself are to blame for this wrong, because you have forsaken me for the king. Now only your death can kindle joy in me…’

Hey, mister unnamed dwarf, quit victim-blaming and go see a psychiatrist. These feelings are not normal.

‘… I grant that I shall hate myself for ever, because I have brought about your death with this my own hand; still must you pale before your early grave.”‘

Well, if you’ll hate yourself forever, don’t frickin’ murder the woman you lust after. Jeez, it’s not that difficult to just, y’know, NOT kill a person.

‘She lays her hand on her young heart, and the heavy tears run down from her eyes, which she would raise to heaven in prayer.’

See what you’re doing, unnamed dwarf dude? Is there nothing in your head telling you this might be a bad idea?
You don’t HAVE to kill her, you know. Ignore the stars! Change your destiny! Live a little!

‘”May you reap no anguish from my death,” she says.’

…What are you doing, lady?! You should be fighting back!
You don’t HAVE to die, you know. Ignore the stars! Change your destiny! Live a little!

‘Then the dwarf kisses her pale cheeks, and forthwith her senses fail.’

You are both terrible, terrible people. The dwarf because he murders his lover; the lady because she is literally too dumb to live.

‘Bemused by death the dwarf gazes upon the lady, and with his own hands commits her to the deep.’

I’m not sure bemusement is the appropriate emotion right now, unnamed dwarf dude. Don’t tell me you didn’t realise what would happen if you strangled a girl to death? ‘Cause that’s super unprepared even for a Byronic villain like yourself.

‘His heart burns with longing for her.’

Well, then he shouldn’t have murdered her, should he?

‘He will never more set foot on any shore.’

So wait, he kills the girl he fancies so that he’ll finally be happy but then kills himself anyway? What’s the point in that?! Dude, you could have just killed yourself in the first place – without murdering your ex-lover – and you’d be no worse off (and the kid you’re attracted to would be considerably better off). What the heck is wrong with you?!

End of lied.

Seriously, WHY does Romantic poetry so seldom contain any characters with basic common sense?! It is unbelievably infuriating!

Moral of the story: obsession with another human being will turn you into a crazy murderer?

BETTER MORAL OF THE STORY: If ever find yourself in the role of a lover in a Romantic tragedy, avoid looking at the sky. Astrology can kill.

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