“Something Utterly New”: Recapturing the Nineteenth-Century Expressive Sound World of Schubert’s Songs

David Greco

Faculty of VCA & MCM, University of Melbourne, Australia

To Cite this Article

Greco, D. (2022). “Something Utterly New”: Recapturing the Nineteenth-Century Expressive Sound World of Schubert’s Songs. p-e-r-f-o-r-m-a-n-c-e, 6.


What today constitutes acceptable performance practice of nineteenth-century music bears little resemblance, and in some cases, none, to the rich palate of expressive devices that once preoccupied the nineteenth-century singer. Johann Michael Vogl was one of Schubert’s favourite singers, and it is evident that his training in a theatrical operatic style led him to use un-notated expressive elements in his performances. This paper repositions his legacy, and invites a re-evaluation of un-notated practices of portamento and ornamentation specific to the early nineteenth-century, through a systematic examination of their functional use, frequency, and rationale. Through creative research the author attempts to revision Vogl’s expressive sound world by re-instating extinct practices of portamento and ornamentation in new commercial recordings of Schubert’s song cycles, Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin.


Vogl, portamento, ornamentation, Schubert

 The ‘Fischer-Dieskau Effect’

It is impossible to listen to Schubert’s Winterreise in 2018 without inevitably conjuring up the familiar sounds and images of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, accompanied by Gerald Moore, or other luminaries, such as Herman Prey or Peter Schreier from the twentieth-century’s so-called recording ‘golden era’ (circa 1945-1985). Just like Glenn Gould’s seminal 1954 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the Fischer-Dieskau/Moore recordings and their media promotion seem ossified in our memories, and have become benchmarks against which to judge all subsequent recordings and interpretations of works, such as Winterreise. Indeed, we have the recording boom in the latter half of the twentieth century to thank for this, with the associated media promotions and dissemination of information about artists and repertoire making the music’s accessibility and artist’s status grow faster than ever before. Consider that Fischer-Dieskau recorded Winterreise eight times, meaning that a wide range of artist comparisons and preferences were now possible, generating an additional level of appeal and influence. And in recent years YouTube and online streaming have made recordings and listener engagement even more accessible.[1]

Fischer-Dieskau and Moore, EMI Music, Germany Gmbh & Co. KG, Cologne, 1970.

So revered are the interpretations of Fischer-Dieskau that today (almost a decade after his death), we hardly think about the musical sound world before his landmark recordings of Winterreise. As this thesis has argued thus far, it is worth knowing how people sang Schubert in the nineteenth century, before the likes of Fischer-Dieskau and others shaped our understanding and perceptions of these works. Of course, the pertinent question is: Do we even have any idea of how different it might have sounded from today’s mainstream interpretations? If the evidence gleaned from the earliest recordings has anything to offer, then perhaps the answer is yes.

Early recordings captured some of the greatest nineteenth-century performers from the dawn of the twentieth century, many of these performers worked along-side famed composers and even premiered works now in the mainstream classical canon. In rare instances documents of artists whose careers and performance style stretched back to the mid nineteenth century were also preserved such as Adelina Patti, Sir George Santley and Nellie Melba.

Anyone to have heard these old recordings may well have found them challenging on first listening, ugly even in some cases. Archaic recording technology aside, the performance styles and now extinct expressive devices found within challenge well established truths regarding the performance practice of nineteenth-century music. (disappeared from mainstream classical performance a little after World War II, in fact, almost precisely at the time of the first seminal recordings of Schubert’s songs.)

We notice performers ‘indulging’ in all types of extravagant expressive practices. They unapologetically slide between notes (portamento) and treat the pulse with an almost jazz-like freedom; sometimes the pulse changes uniformly, sometimes they “surf” above a steady accompaniment (tempo rubato). They alter notated rhythms and often ornament—sometimes even excessively—the notated melody. There is a fluidity and an uninhibited style to these early performers that is extremely compelling and, to many, deeply moving.

But what if these were not ‘extravagant’, unthinking or even indulgent practices, but evidence of a highly conditioned and un-notated nineteenth-century style of singing that many composers expected—even desired—of their singers?

“Our Master of Declamatory Song”: Repositioning Vogl’s Legacy

Johann Michael Vogl was one of Schubert’s favourite singers, and his dramatic training in the theatrical style of Italian opera and Singspiele would have led him to be an expert in un-notated expressive practices and improvisatory elements, often invisible in musical text. Between 1795 and 1822, he sang roles in approximately 200 opera productions, including Pizarro in Beethoven’s 1814 premier of Fidelio, and Schubert’s Die Zwillingsbrüder in 1819, the only opera to be performed during the composer’s lifetime.  From his first associations with Schubert in 1817 until his death in 1840, Vogl was deeply involved in the performance, promotion, and publication of Schubert’s music. It was through opera, steeped in its drama and theatricality, that Schubert first came to know Vogl, and it was foremost this theatrical style that drew him to the singer. Schubert’s close friend, Josef von Spaun, remarked:

The great impression Gluck’s ‘Iphigenia’ made on Schubert was further enhanced by the masterly acting and splendid singing of the Court Opera singer Vogl. Schubert’s enthusiasm for that artist rose with every performance and nourished the ardent wish in him to become acquainted with this master of song.[2]

The accounts of Vogl’s singing that are left to us today, in tandem with his connection to a well-documented late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century performance tradition, constitute valuable evidence into the performance practice of Schubert’s lieder. The image below shows Vogl sat next to the composer accompanying him.

A Schubert Evening at Josef von Spaun’s,” by Moritz von Schwind.  Sepia drawing, ca.1868.

In the summer of 1825 Schubert wrote to his brother Ferdinand the following description about his working relationship with Vogl:

The style and the manner in which Vogl sings and I accompany, so that at such a moment we seem to be one, is for these people something utterly new and unheard-of [emphasis added].[3]

It is hard to make much of this cryptic account from Schubert, but it does suggest that the way in which the composer and singer performed was different to what had come previously. Vogl was reported to have declaimed and recited poems to Schubert before he set them to music, such was the importance both musicians laid on the dramatic and theatrical.[4] Vogl was championed for his uniquely expressive marriage of text and musical declamation, a preoccupation he hints at in his diary entry dated 1817:

Nothing else has so openly revealed the lack of a practical method of singing as Schubert’s songs. How many would otherwise not have realised, perhaps, for the first time what is meant by: Speech, poetry in tones, words in harmony, thought garbed in music. They would have learned that the loveliest word-poems of our greatest poets, translated into a musical idiom of this kind, may be enhanced, even surpassed.[5]

Could the “lack of a practical method” that Schubert’s songs provoked in Vogl perhaps further the notion that Schubert’s style was altogether new? Schubert himself after all uses the term “something utterly new”.

Schubert’s songs offer a heightened connection between pianist and singer in which the accompaniment was promoted to match the importance of the voice, compositionally and dramatically. The expressive interplay between singer and piano is a distinctly Schubertian characteristic, and unique from the songs of composers previous such as Haydn (1732-1809), Mozart and Weber (1786-1826).

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s (1749-1832) dramatic poem Die Erlkönig became Vogl’s declamatory signature piece. In Vienna’s Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung the critic refers to Vogl as “our master of declamatory song,” and that Vogl performed Erlkönig with “all his greatness.”[6] Spaun added later that: “By his performance Vogl created an interest not only in the music but in the poem as well.”[7] Vogl’s strength lay in his theatricality and in his fascination of the rhetorical, all of which place him squarely within Biedermeier culture. Muns notes:

[The] declamation theory inherited most of its concepts from rhetoric. It also continued the age-old rhetorical interest in the expressive and musical qualities of speech prosody. A widespread doctrine holds that there is a vocal continuum, from declamation as a heightened form of speech to song as heightened declamation.[8]

Vogl’s intensely theatrical and confident persona no doubt fed his preference for richly dramatic operatic parts. Posthumously however it would attract him a great deal of criticism. Bauernfeld writes in 1841:

It was above all in the realization of the characteristic, in the artistic union of truth and beauty, that our Vogl proved his mastery; he therefore only felt happy with those roles which allowed him to portray a highly pronounced character […] Adversaries of what we Germans prefer to call the dramatic style of singing often reproached him for a neglect of the legato technique required in arias.[9]

Interesting to note is his criticism of Vogl’s lack of ‘legato’. A ‘declamatory style’ might insinuate a highly articulated, prosodic delivery, in opposition to a smoother, more lyrical legato – at least by modern standards. Muns’ assumption is that a ‘declamatory singer’ “…presumably implies that the singer gave strong prominence to the text, adding interpretative nuance in diction and vocal colouring, and acting out, by vocal means, any roles that are implied in the text.”[10]

It is possible Vogl had peculiarities not common to other singers. It is even possible there is some truth in the accusations he might have taken liberties with Schubert’s music.[11]  He was after all criticised for his excessive dramatic flair, even his alleged dandyism.[12]

Michael Vogl, it is true, overstepped the permissible limits more and more
[…] His performances were marked by an unmistakable affectation.

Many accounts of Vogl, such as this from Leopold von Sonnleithner, a member of Schubert’s inner circle, were written many years after Schubert’s death, and by that time the Vienna of Beethoven and Schubert had changed, Montgomery suggesting:

…it had become a city of cultural memories instead of realities. Schubert’s songs must have suffered enormously in the hands of sentimentally-minded personalities determined to recapture the past. Posthumous accounts of Schubert’s music grew less and less reliable with the years and thus more susceptible to polemics.[13]

Within the doctrines of the Werktreue movement (translated as ‘true to the work’), which gained momentum in the course of the nineteenth century, perhaps Vogl’s critics can be put into clearer perspective.[14] Werktreue served to “demote” the idea of the performer to a position of a mere vessel to the musical work.[15]

A singer of great expressive potential, leanings towards occasional ‘dandyism’, and who assisted in the published alterations of Schubert’s scores might very well have come under posthumous scrutiny in the latter half of that century. The duty of performers became, according to Goehr, “to show allegiance to the works of the composers.”[16]  This meant that:

…they had to comply as perfectly as possible with the scores composers provided […] Performers should interpret works in order to present the work as it truly is with regard to both its structural and expressive aspects […] A performance met the Werktreue ideal most satisfactorily, it was finally decided, when it achieved complete transparency.[17]

The idea of the ‘invisible performer’, whose highest level could be reached through total self-effacement, gained momentum as the nineteenth century progressed, and in some ways had its torch relit by modernist ideologies within twentieth century musicology. Taruskin draws on an interesting current day example of this notion. In a recent review of Schumann’s Dichterliebe performed by famous lieder interpreter Ian Bostridge, a critic praised the singer for his apparent “self-elimination” during the performance.[18] The invisibility of the performer, whose personality is completely evacuated in order to best express the intentions of the composer through a literal reading of the text, can be seen as a remnant of Werktreue culture.

Schubert would not have understood what the critic reviewing Bostridge’s Dichterliebe was talking about. Vogl’s personality and expressive qualities were what inspired and drew Schubert to his singing, and were crucial not only to his compositional process, but also the performance of his works. John Potter shares this opinion:

Our overly literal respect for pre-twentieth-century composers’ scores is something that neither original composer nor performer would recognize. We can cope with a score – a controlled environment, standardized and quantifiable. What Schubert actually heard would probably have been none of these things. Schubert was inspired by the performances of Vogl, whereas we tend to prefer measurable excellence to the randomness of inspiration.[19]

The subsequent fidelity towards printed notation that took hold in the late-nineteenth century could not be further at odds with the musical culture of Vogl’s generation. An explicit description of how a text-based fidelity represented an aberration of early-nineteenth century thinking comes from Le Pianist, a mid-1830’s French music journal devoted entirely to the piano. Fidelity towards printed notation, in the estimation of Le Pianist, “[…] robbed the performer of his or her domain, desiccated the piece, and bored the listener.”[20]

Opera was partly shielded from the Werktreue austerity, but concert and recital audiences began to expect a heightened reverence.[21] As it gained momentum, it is possible the ideology carried with it a reluctance for future singers to indulge so heavily in un-notated expressive practices. Could it be these expressive practices that Sonnleithner and others retrospectively found so offensive in Vogl’s singing? Schubert’s image continued to gather a canonised stature throughout the nineteenth century, and it is very likely that un-notated performance practices, such as portamento, tempo modification and declamatory text delivery, were at odds with the sacred vision of his work. Youens suggests that “[a]s the nineteenth-century tastes shifted and greater adherence to the composers notated wishes became fashionable, one can trace a gradual purging of the score.”[22]

Sadly, we have no recordings of Johann Michael Vogl. Some scholars would suggest we have no way of knowing how he even might have sounded.[23] We do however know he was operating within an Italianate aesthetic, a style that had been well established in Vienna from even before Mozart’s arrival in that city. Schubert’s teacher was after all famed Italian composer Antonio Salieri. Late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Italian teachers such as Domenico Corri (1746-1825) and Manuel Garcia II (1805-1906) documented expressive vocal practices such as portamento and rubato in their writing that is left to us. These were practices that were not exclusively the domain of opera singers also, Potter noting “[t]hough almost all of Garcia’s examples are from operas, it must be remembered that successful singers sang operatic arias in concerts alongside non-operatic material.”[24]

Is there any reason for us to believe an advanced virtuoso of great culture such as Vogl, when singing Schubert’s new songs, would have dramatically altered his rich palate of stage-led, un-notated expressive practices he had developed and nurtured throughout his career? If we accept that practices changed more slowly in the nineteenth century, and that, like the case of Fischer-Dieskau, a singer rarely re-builds their core technique or expressive philosophy, might the gulf that separates us from Vogl be shorter than we think? [25]

Potter suggests “It is very hard to judge how excellent these old singers [Vogl] were without a common standard to apply.”[26] If we look to the historical accounts of singing from the period, then we may indeed have something approaching a “common standard” for reclaiming the expressive sound world of Johann Michael Vogl.[27]

The Recording Project: A New Approach

In April, 2018, historical keyboardist Dr Erin Helyard and I began a commission from the Australian Broadcasting Company to undertake the first Australian historically informed recordings of Schubert’s three major song cycles, Winterreise, Die Schöne Müllerin and Schwanengesang.[28] Winterreise was released on the ABC Classics Label in September that year and Die Schöne Müllerin is due for public release in Autumn 2020. (Schwanengesang at the time of writing remains unrecorded).[29]

Winterreise CD sleeve, produced by ABC in 2018

Helyard himself is known for his research into historical piano techniques and the HIP of music ranging from the seventeenth to early nineteenth century. (On this recording, he uses a replica 1817 Anton Graf Viennese piano made by Chris Maene in 2016.)

Helyard and I were drawn to this project with a shared fascination of the figure of Johann Michael Vogl and the expressive sound world he might have occupied. Through the combined investigation of extinct expressive practices documented in early nineteenth-century written sources, we attempted to revision the expressive sound world of Schubert’s oft-recorded masterpieces. In the pages that follow, I explore the many ways Helyard and I attempted to restore early nineteenth-century expressive practices to this music. The reader is encouraged to listen to the ABC recording to consider the decisions made and impact achieved.

Partaking in Vogl’s “Liberties”: Ornamenting Schubert

Vogl was known to embellish Schubert’s lieder, and indeed some of his ornaments survive.[30] Historical speaking this should come as no surprise “—for what Vogl was doing was only part of the soloist’s normal contribution to a performance”.[31]

Such practices were characteristic for Schubert’s time, and Schubert surely accepted his songs as embellished by Vogl just as readily as his friends did. But it is also true that Vogl’s embellishments were improvised.[32]

The embellishments, compared to those we may expect in operatic works of the time, appear quite minimal—isolated to passing note appoggiaturas, turns and occasional altered note-values—all of which are observed in the early recordings. Unfortunately, eminent musicians such as Fischer-Dieskau hold the misinformed idea, echoed by many scholars, that Vogl’s published alterations, to note-values especially, were to compensate for his age and diminished breath capacity:

Vogl’s actual ornamentations were kept within quite reasonable bounds-shortage of breath and vocal imitations were the much more frequent cause of [his] alterations.[33]

This theory is refuted by very clear recorded evidence of this practice by early recorded singers such as Santley and Melba, all of whom at the time of recording were relatively youthful. In Fischer Dieskau’s defence, however, he does concede that in altering note values, Vogl “above all…wanted to emphasise the drama of the song.”[34]

Strophic songs seem to have occupied the focus of much of Vogl’s ornamentation, and Die Schöne Müllerin, more so than Winterreise, features many.[35] Dürr, in order to get as close as possible to the practices of Schubert and Vogl, recommends introducing ornamentation “if not in every stanza then probably in the final stanza wherever warranted by emotionally charged words.”[36]

Inspired by Vogl’s example I focus my embellishments on strophic songs and areas with repetitious melodic material in each cycle. Following nineteenth-century practice, I introduce my own embellishments, and do not copy Vogl’s. In Müllerin this is not difficult due to the high number of strophic numbers and many lyrical phrases. In Winterreise the embellishments tend to sweeten the relatively fewer lyrical moments, consequently producing a brief respite from the intensely sombre poetry.

In Gefrorne Tränen (song no. 3, Winterreise), a chromatic appoggiatura is added to the word “geweinet/weeping” to highlight the despair of the protagonist.

Ob es mir denn entgangen,                           How could I have not noticed,
Daß ich geweinet hab’?                                That I have been weeping?

Ex. 1. Gefrorne Tränen (Winterreise), mm.6-11 – Sound Link

Das Wandern (song no. 1, Müllerin) features five verses, similar to many songs within the cycle, and might seem like an obstacle to many singers attempting to maintain interest and variety of expression. (The same applies to the accompaniment). The approach Helyard and I took with this song represents one similar to many of the other strophic songs within the cycle, with an inclination to ornament the last versus with embellishments that illuminate the poetry.

The third verse deals with the perpetual motion of the mill-stone wheel. By altering the rhythm in the vocal-line I could highlight the length and breadth of the turning motion of the wheel.

Die gar nicht gerne stille stehn,                They can hardly beat to be still,
Die sich mein Tag nicht müde drehn,     They never tire all the livelong day,
Die Räder.                                                     The wheels.

Ex. 2. Das Wandern (Müllerin), mm. 51-59 – Sound Link

(*Note Helyard’s embellishments in the piano immediately following to set up the grinding motion of the heavy stone depicted in the following verse.)

The embellishments in the piano and voice in the final verse are conceived to depict the wonder and excitement of the poet embarking on his journey, and are thusly restricted to flourishes of the finally utterance of the word ‘wandern’.

O Wandern, Wandern, meine Lust,          O wand’ring, wand’ring, you my joy,
O Wandern!                                                    O wand’ring!
Herr Meister und Frau Meisterin,             Good master and good mistress mine,
Laßt mich in Frieden weiter ziehn             Let me freely go on my way,
Und wandern.                                                 And wander.

Ex. 3. Das Wandern (Müllerin), mm. 92-10 – Sound Link

Early Nineteenth-Century Portamento Re-imagined

Schubert’s dates place him firmly within an early nineteenth-century music tradition, the expressive practices of which are clearly outlined in the writing of Corri and Garcia.[37] These written sources however are often allied solely to music within Italy at the time, such as Schubert’s Italian contemporaries, Bellini and Donizetti (whose works indeed preoccupy the majority of Garcia’s writing for example). Nonetheless, we are reminded that Vienna was also steeped in a rich Italianate tradition during this period, whose many expressive practices such as portamento and rubato would have been deeply imbedded in the performance rhetoric of artists within that city. Further to this, Vogl also was some thirty years older than Schubert, and whose performance practice would have been heavily rooted in a late eighteenth-century style, making the relevance of particularly Corri’s writing crucial.[38] It was therefore important for Erin and me to isolate expressive practices that were unique to the first part of the nineteenth century.

Written descriptions from the time reveal that portamento was far more than just a generic sliding between two notes, but rather a highly conditioned practice that even carried structural implications for other expressive devices. Early nineteenth-century portamento encompassed two un-notated appoggiaturas. Johan Friedrich Schubert (1770-1811) is one of the first writers to describe these, one involving a delay (Vorschläge), and the other an anticipation (Nachschläge) of the destination note.[39]

Corri soon coined these two species of portamento ‘grace-notes’; the ‘Anticipated Grace’

and the ‘Leaping Grace’ (or ‘delayed appoggiatura’)

Garcia uses the word ‘drag’ when referring to the unequal motion of these two graces, and indeed the destination note of each slide determents the species of rhythmic alteration, being either ‘anticipated’ before the beat, or ‘delayed’. We therefore note an inherent tempo modification within the movement of each slide. Brown eloquently describes them as “the minute deviations of rhythm and tempo that are a quintessential element of sensitive performance.”[40]

Portamento, similar to rubato, seems to have heightened expression and clarity in the vocal line, and it seems highly likely that the text and sentiment of a phrase were key factors in its execution. Both devices have in common a largely un-notated nature however, and the nineteenth-century artist was expected to be well versed in the art of their execution.

It is no coincidence these dominant forms of portamento are preserved in recordings by the oldest singers on record such as Santley and Patti. It is certain the style of portamento Vogl would have known and used would have featured grace-like appoggiaturas, especially the ‘leaping grace’ which was unique to the latter eighteenth, early nineteenth century especially, but fell out of favour soon after.[41]

The last verse of Das Wandern (song no. 1, Die Schöne Müllerin) is the most optimistic in the song, with the poet’s resolute affirmation:

O Wandern, Wandern, meine Lust,                      O wand’ring, wand’ring, you my joy,
O Wandern!                                                                O wand’ring!
Herr Meister und Frau Meisterin,                         Good master and good mistress mine,
Laßt mich in Frieden weiter ziehn                         Let me go on my way in peace,
Und wandern.                                                             And wander.

The energetic nature and the wide intervals lend themselves perfectly to the use of Corri’s ‘leaping grace’ particularly on the words ‘O Wandern’ – Sound Link

At the time of the ABC recording of Müllerin and the written analysis component of this study however, a crucial piece of recorded evidence was unknown to me, whose subsequent discovery would come to have extreme significance for the particular variety of portamento I used in this song.

Baritone Sir George Henschel (1850-1934) is the oldest male singer on gramophone to leave a recording of Müllerin. Deeply imbedded in the musical landscape of mid-late nineteenth century Germany, coupled with his close ties to Brahms, Clara Schumann and Liszt, he represents a valuable stylistic reference. His age also means he likely avoided much of the harsh censorship of the werktreue movement. The portamento on his recording from 1928 contains explicit use of the ‘leaping grace’, but astounding to note were the positions that he used the grace corresponded identically to my own, on the words Sound Link

George Henschel, Vienna, c.1891

The ‘anticipation grace’ was particularly effective in complimenting a melancholy sentiment, and the inherent rubato within this device, resulting from the anticipated destination note, heightened expression. Morgengruß (song no. 8, Müllerin) is a delicate and highly sentimental song where the poet contemplates the possibility his feelings are not met with mutual affection from the beautiful miller girl. The poet however remains optimistic and in the last verse I use the ‘anticipation grace’ in close succession to intensify this affect by connecting the phrase ‘Und aus dem tiefen Herzen ruft–Die Liebe Leid und Sorgen’ (And from the depths of the heart–Love draws grief and cares). Particularly effective is its use on the last note ‘Sorgen’ (worries) where the grace anticipates Helyard’s change of chord, creating a tempo rubato and making the voice stand out in relief of the accompaniment.

Die Lerche wirbelt in der Luft,                     The lark is trilling high in the air,
Und aus dem tiefen Herzen ruft –             And from the depths of the heart
Die Liebe Leid und Sorgen.                       Love draws grief and cares.
Leid und Sorgen.                                            Grief and worries

Ex. 4. Morgengruß (Müllerin), mm.30-40 (Verse 4) – Sound Link

Similarly, in Trockne Blumen (song no. 18, Müllerin) I use a combination of the graces to heighten expression. It is interesting to note that I gravitate towards a use of the energised ‘leaping grace’ for verbs and actions–machen (to do), kommen (to come), werden (to become)–reserving sentimental and descriptive words for the melancholier ‘anticipation grace’, for example the two on Liebe (love).

Ex. 5. Trockne Blumen (Müllerin), mm.16-24 –  Sound Link

This is another moment when a piece of encouraging evidence was discovered subsequent to the recording process that confirmed an historical precedent for my specific use of portamento. In January of 1824, within a year of Müllerin’s composition, and within months of its publishing, Schubert composed his Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen for flute and piano. Within its pages I was excited to learn that this time it was not Vogl with whom my expressive practices aligned, but actually Schubert himself.

In the variations Schubert inserts the ‘leaping grace’ in the ornamented flute line as well as in the piano (Ex. 7), at precisely the same moment as my un-notated practices in the song itself—on the words machen and kommen(See Ex. 6, bars 17 and 21). The composer however makes no such use of the ‘anticipation grace’ in the variations, which although was still used, clearly had not yet surpassed the ‘leaping grace’ as the fashionable variant of portamento at the time.

Ex. 6. Theme One: Introduction and Variations on Trockne Blumen, D.802, mm.1-15


Benjamin Britten (1913-1979) once observed just how much Winterreise relies on the vocalist and pianist to bring it to life:

One of the most alarming things I always find, when performing this work, is that there is actually so little on the page. [Schubert] gets the most extraordinary moods and atmospheres with so few notes. […] He leaves it all very much up to the performers.[42]

Britten’s astute observation bears much resonance with the process behind which Helyard and I attempted to realise the historical sound world of Schubert’s music. Extinct and un-notated practices of portamento and ornamentation may seem like small details when analysed in isolation, but these subtle, explicit practices formed part of a unique and forgotten language that was essential to the expressive communication between nineteenth-century singers, and their audience.

In the recreation process, I found that by re-instating these historical practices, I had a larger artillery of expressive choices at my disposal. Enabling me to illuminate the text with a subtlety and immediacy of emotion, I could convey a level of emotional subtext that would otherwise have been difficult to achieve. The accumulative effect of this creative research brought me closer to engaging what I believe to be the origins of a declamatory and rhetorical delivery in which Schubert’s favourite singers were known to be pioneers.


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Tassel, Eric Van. “’Something Utterly New’: Listening to Schubert Lieder. 1: Vogl and the Declamatory Style.” Early Music 25, no. 4 (1997): 702-714. URL: www.jstor.org/stable/3128414.

Weitz, Shaena B.  “Monochromatic and Polychromatic Performance: Improvisatory Alteration in Early Nineteenth-Century French Pianism”, The Musical Quarterly, Volume 101, Issue 1, (2018): 76–109, DOI: 10.1093/musqtl/gdy011.

Youens, Susan. Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992


[1]      The recording industry especially has suffered in recent years as listeners increasingly switch to streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music or YouTube videos to consume their music rather than purchasing CDs.

[2]      Otto Erich Deutsch, Schubert: memoirs by his friends (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1958), 129.

[3]      Ibid., 314.

[4]     Andreas Liess, Johann Michael Vogl: Hofoperist Und Schubertsänger (Böhlau, Köln, 1954), 87.

[5]      Deutsch, Memoirs, 314.

[6]      Ibid., 870-6.

[7]      Liess, Johann Michael Vogl, 87.

[8]      Lodewijk Muns, “Concert Song and Concert Speech around 1800,” Music & Letters Vol 98, No.3 (2017), 393, https://doi.org/10.1093/ml/gcx082

[9]      Eduard von Bauernfeld, “Erinnerung an J. M. Vogl: Biographische Skizze”, Allgemeine Theaterzeitung, 34, nos. 106-7 (1841), 473-4, at 473; paraphrased in Kreissle von Hellborn, Franz Schubert, 115.

[10]    Muns, “Concert song”, 383.

[11]   A large preoccupation of literature in recent years regarding Vogl’s performance practice and expressive singing focus on the polemic issue of his taking liberties with Schubert’s music. Notable sources include Walther Dürr, “Schubert and Johann Michael Vogl: A Reappraisal”, 19th-Century Music 3, no. 2 (1979) and David Montgomery “Modern Schubert Interpretation in the Light of the Pedagogical Sources of His Day Early Music, Early Music, Vol. 25, No. 1. (1997), 100-118.

[12]   Deutsch, Memoirs, 573.

[13]    Montgomery, “Franz Schubert’s Music”, 21.

[14]    For more information on Werktreue see Mary Hunter, “To Play as If from the Soul of the Composer” The Idea of the Performer in Early Romantic Aesthetics, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Vol. 58, No. 2 University of California Press (2005) 357-398.

[15]    Ibid.

[16]    Lydia Goehr, The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) 231-232.

[17]    Ibid.

[18]    Richard Taruskin, The Danger of Music and Other Anti-Utopian Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 1.

[19]    Potter, “Beggar at the Door”, 549.

[20]    Shaena B Weitz, “Monochromatic and Polychromatic Performance: Improvisatory Alteration in Early Nineteenth-Century French Pianism”, The Musical Quarterly, Volume 101, Issue 1, (2018): 76–109, DOI: 10.1093/musqtl/gdy011.

[21]    Van Tassel ‘Something Utterly New’, 709.

[22]    Susan Youens, Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 21.

[23]    Montgomery, “Modern Schubert, 104, suggests “The pedagogical sources of Schubert’s day reveal nothing about his own thinking, for he made no impact upon the theoretical world”, claiming also that because Vogl left no vocal treatise of his own we have no reliable evidence of how he might have sung.

[24]    Potter, “Beggar at the Door”, 538.

[25]    Clive Brown, “Performing classical repertoire: the unbridgeable gulf between contemporary practice and historical reality”, Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis (2006): 31–43, 33.

[26]    Ibid., 549.

[27]    Ibid.

[28]    From here on, the author shall be adopting the first-person voice to explore the interpretative choices made in experimenting with historical knowledge to develop interpretations of Schubert’s song repertoire.

[29]    This project represents the first professional attempts at an historically informed reading of these works recorded in Australia to receive national and international distribution. David Greco (baritone) and Erin Helyard (fortepiano). Winterreise. ABC Classics ABC4817470, 2018. CD.

[30]    Vogl’s published embellishments in Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin are detailed in Mussard, “Embellishing Schubert’s songs”, and Matson, “Johann Michael Vogl’s Alterations”.

[31]    Van Tassel ‘Something Utterly New’, 709.

[32]   Dürr, “A Reappraisal”, 140.

[33]    Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Schubert’s Songs: A Biographical Study (New York: Alfred A. Knof, 1976), 293.

[34]    Ibid.

[35]    Vogl ornamented famous trophic songs such as An Syliva, An die Musik, and from Die Schöne Müllerin, Mein and Das Wandern.

[36]    Dürr, “A Reappraisal”, 140.

[37]    Domenico Corri. The Singer’s Preceptor. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1810.

Manuel Garcia, Garcia’s Treatise on the Art of Singing. Paris, 1840; reprint, London: Leonard & Co., 1924.

[38]    Corri’s writing spans from the last quarter of the eighteenth century through till 1810.

[39]    Johann Friedrich Schubert, Neue Singe-Schule Oder Gründliche Und Vollständige Anweisung Zur Singkunst Indrey Abtheilungen Mit Hinlänglichen Uebungsstücken [In German] (ca.1790 Leipzig), 56.

[40]    Brown, Classical and Romantic, 485.

[41]    Potter, “Beggar at the door”, 427.

[42]    Donald Gislason, “Program Notes: Gerald Finley & Julius Drake”, Vancouver Recital Society, (January 17, 2014), https://vanrecital.com/2014/01/program-notes-gerald-finley-julius-drake/