This is one of Schubert's three settings of Shakespeare
texts from July 1826, the other two being Ständchen
("Hark, Hark, the Lark"), D. 889, and Trinklied ("Come,
thou monarch of the vine"), D. 888. The composer was at
the height of his powers, producing in the same year
such masterpieces as the Symphony No. 9 in C major
("Great"), the String Quartet No. 15, and the four
songs from Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, D. 877.
The text of this song is taken from Act Four, Scene
Two, of Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona as
translated by Eduard von Bauernfeld. While Schubert had
set many songs from the works of Matthisson, Goethe,
Kosegarten, Schiller, and others, his interest in
Shakespeare came late; not surprisingly, all three of
the Shakespeare songs are of high quality. This song
was first published in 1828, and the edition in which
it appeared was dedicated to Maria Pachler, a patron of
the composer who lived in Graz.
"An Sylvia" is a wonderful example of Schubert's
adaptive approach to song writing. At this point in his
career -- only months from the composition of
Winterriese, and a mere two years from death -- the
composer had explored nearly every approach to text
setting available to him, at times pushing the
boundaries of harmony, declamation, and musical form
well beyond previously established limits. Yet here he
created a simple strophic song -- one that, in its
basic materials and form, is practically
indistinguishable from even his earliest works. Its
elegant and self-possessed nature is perfectly suited
to Shakespeare's subtle wit and poetic meter; it needed
nothing more adventurous to bring out these qualities.
The dialogue between the two "gentleman," who are
extolling the virtues of young Sylvia, comes to life in
the simple arch shaped melodies, and the structure of
Schubert's verses is such that their repetition is
welcome -- in this way it is reminiscent of several
entries from his earlier Die schöne Müllerin.
Although originally created for Solo Piano, I created
this arrangement of "An Sylvia" (Op. 106 No. 4 D.891)
for Oboe & Strings (2 Violins, Viola & Cello).