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Sieben Gesänge aus Walter Scott’s Fräulein vom See

Pieces in this collection

Seven songs from Walter Scott’s ‘The Lady of the Lake’

First published by Matthias Artaria in April 1826

Walter Scott’s third long narrative poem, ‘The Lady of the Lake‘, was first published in Edinburgh in 1810 and was immediately successful. 25,000 copies of the book were sold within the first eight months. Translations and adaptations rapidly followed. In 1811 a musical version, ‘The Knight of Snowdoun‘, by Thomas Morton and Henry Bishop was on stage in London. Tourists were soon visiting the banks of Loch Katrine inspired by Scott’s descriptions.

When Rossini was unsure of the subject he should choose for the opera he was due to compose for the San Carlo theatre in Naples in 1819 he got into conversation with Désiré-Alexandre Batton, who lent him a French translation of ‘The Lady of the Lake‘. Rossini immediately decided that his new work would be ‘La donna del lago‘. In the same year Philipp Adam Storck published the first version of his German translation: ‘Das Fräulein vom See‘ (Schubert was to use Storck’s revised 1823 edition of this as the basis of his settings).

Scott’s poem (over 5,000 lines in total) is made up of six Cantos, each devoted to the action of a single day (it is well worth reading a Canto a day to get a sense of the pace of the events and the poem as a whole). The narrative is regularly interspersed with lyrics and ballads (Scott’s first poetic works were in these shorter forms) intended to give voice to different characters and situations. A number of them are clearly designated ‘songs’ and it is reported that they are sung to instrumental accompaniments, so they function in a similar way to arias and choruses in opera. They allow individuals to express otherwise hidden or repressed emotions and they express group solidarity when necessary. It appears that Schubert responded to ‘The Lady of the Lake‘ just as he had to Goethe’s ‘Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre‘: he saw the narrative introductions to the interpolated lyrics and ballads as an invitation to a musician to turn poetry into song.

Schubert set about half of the songs that appear in the course of the poem. There is no evidence that he intended to set others (and it would not be feasible to set the narrative as a whole).

D 837Ellens Gesang ICanto First      The Chase XXXI
D 838Ellens Gesang IICanto First      The Chase XXXII
D 835BootgesangCanto Second  The Island      XIX
D 836CoronachCanto Third     The GatheringXVI
D 846Normans GesangCanto Third     The GatheringXXIII
D 839Ellens Gesang IIICanto Third     The GatheringXXIX
D 843Lied des gefangenen JägersCanto Sixth     The Guard-Room XXIV

The characters that appear in these seven songs are the following:

Ellen Douglas
James Douglas, her father, formerly the Earl of Bothwell and the King's regent
Roderick Dhu, Chief of Clan Alpine
James Fitz-James, the Knight of Snowdoun (a pseudonym used by King James V as he travels incognito)
Malcolm Graeme, a highland warrior
Allan-bane, a bard
Duncan, a warrior in Clan Alpine, whose funeral is interrupted
Norman, a warrior in Clan Alpine, whose wedding is interrupted

For the full text of The Lady of the Lake: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/3011/3011-h/3011-h.htm

For a brief synopsis: http://www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/works/poetry/lady.html