Art Song & Piano Pedalling II, “Ganymed” pt.A

It came to my attention a little while ago on an online discussion concerning matters on approaching the accompaniment to Schubert’s “Ganymed” D.544. So, not having played the song before I decided to look further into it, and in typical fashion, became obsessed with it. The two main issues of discussion concerned what is essentially a subito piano on the last beat of m.79 (“Es schweben die Wolken…), the other being the possibility of having to pedal the first part of the song; which, if you read my earlier article on this subject, you know I consider this, especially in the case of Schubert, borderline apostate.

As part of my research into this song through the wonders of modern technology I was able examine approximately eighteen different performances, most of which were done with “name” artists — i.e., those who are supposed to be at the top of their game, the standard bearers of musicianship, the people the world has counted on to get it right. I’m referring to such couplings as Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Edwin Fischer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore, Hermann Prey and Gerald Moore, Kathleen Ferrier and Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten, Ian Bostridge and Julius Drake, Barbara Bonny and Geoffrey Parsons, Felicity Lott and Graham Johnson, Sarah Walker and Roger Vignoles, plus other singers such as Arleen Auger, Gérard Souzay, Peter Anders and Lucia Popp with their respective, perhaps less famous partners. The one characteristic they had in common was the exquisite singing by the singers and, in every case, allow me to repeat — IN EVERY CASE — the pianist chooses to to ignore most, if not all, of Schubert’s phrase and articulation markings.

Needless to say, I was nonplussed by this revelation. I was particularly disturbed with Britten’s accompanying. One would think that, as a composer and having to deal with performers constantly misunderstanding or ignoring his intentions, he would have had a little more respect for Schubert’s directions; instead, outside of the basic notes and most (not all) of the dynamics Britten pretty much decided he knew better than the composer as to how the piano part was to be played. I can’t determine if it was out of sheer arrogance or simple laziness or — most likely — both.

Gerald Moore, the erstwhile “master” accompanist is not much better. Whereas, his playing is considerably more elegant than Britten’s, and he at least maintains the staccato at mm. 68-78, he still over uses the damper pedal throughout the song. This is especially noticeable, as with the others, at the very opening where the left hand is very clearly marked staccato. The only pianist of the bunch who at least gives some sort of lip service to Schubert’s markings is Graham Johnson, who in light of his monumental Schubert Song Project for Hyperion, I could only hope for at least as much. Notwithstanding, not unlike his colleagues Mr. Johnson still falls short in fidelity to Schubert’s intentions. As for the others, it’s pretty much the same or worse. At least they all had the common courtesy to, for the most part, honour the dynamics.

Therefore, next we’ll take a closer look at the song and see what needs to be done by the accompanist to actually realise the composer’s intentions.

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