Music Theory Analysis
The Life of Franz Schubert
Born in Vienna, Austria, on January 31st of 1797, Franz Schubert was one of the most underappreciated composers of his time. He lived a very short life ridden with sickness and disease and died at the end of November 1828, but still he composed over 600 brilliant songs.
What Schubert brought to the table was a very expressive flowering of Romanticism. With his lyric, songlike compositions, he portrayed themes that develop differently than normal Classical music, with pieces that come together discursively and episodically. He was known to be one of the first “bohemian” composers. He was a self-declared composer, and considered himself unfit for any other lifestyle. Of all the great composers, Schubert is often said to have led one of the quietist lives: steadily being poor, reworking his ideas for many hours throughout everyday, and relying on the support of his close friends just to get by.
Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh,” translating to “You are Rest and Peace,” is one of the most romantic and emotional pieces in his collection. Setting the music to a passionate poem by Friedrich Rückert, an inspirational German poet, Schubert translates the text’s sensuality perfectly, with loving and gentle themes and simple form, thus creating a beautiful and moving song. The song comes from the approximate year of 1823, and is No. 3 from his Op. 59 collection, which consists of four songs, all of which are set to love poems by Rückert. The period that “Du bist die Ruh” comes out of is known as the Romantic era, where composers and songwriters explored various different aspects of composition to ultimately intensify a piece. Through the use of chromatic alterations, mode mixture, and other elements, Romantic composers sought out to make the music as emotional and moving as possible. Instead of a consistent mood throughout a song, or a harsh change of key, Romantic compositions have very expressive parts that communicate the broad set of human emotions much clearer.
The year of 1823 and the years preceding it mark a point where critics say Schubert reached his “musical maturity.” He was done with his impersonation attempts on other composers, and set out to create only his own. His health began to fail him, and he spent much time in and out of Vienna General Hospital, but he continued to work whenever he could, creating greats like his Die Schöne Müllerin song collection and of course, “Du bist die Ruh.”
For this section, I will complete an analysis of Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh.” I will begin by marking up the score of the piece, using Roman numeral analysis to notate the harmonic progression. Using the Roman numeral analysis, I will then be able to pay more careful attention to the overall form of the piece, and all of the subtle elements that add to its grandeur. I will focus on small sections at a time, portraying the themes as they develop, and I will be using some reductive analysis
“Du bist die Ruh” is a song set in the key of E♭ Major with a light triple meter 3/8 swing. It’s meant to be played in a Larghetto style, which places it at around 60-66 bpm, giving it a rather broad feel. The piece begins with an opening of 7 measures, both played in the treble clef, marked at a pianissimo. Schubert keeps the progression very simple in his introduction: I-vi6-V6-vi6-I6/4-V7-I. He goes through a function cycle, firmly establishing the key of the piece as well as preparing the music for the voice to enter with the I chord in m.7.
The voice enters at m.8, also at a pianissimo, and ultimately sets up the structure for each verse. Schubert arranged it as so in order for one line of text to fit comfortably over 4 measures. In m.8-11, the piano returns to the standard treble and bass clef notation, and the chord progression is I-vi6-I6 V7-I, completing a whole function cycle in 4 measures to suit each line of text. The piano remains very simple, using repetition to fully establish each chord, perhaps to draw greater attention to the voice and lyrics. The voice enters on the B♭, and climbs up to the E♭ casually within the 4 measures. This introduces a bit of suspense, going from Sol to Do, only to quickly resolve once the function cycle is complete. The lyrics over the first cycle seem very fitting and appropriate to such light and mellow instrumentals: “My peace thou art, thou art my rest.” M.12-15 is an exact note-for-note repeat of m.8-11, except the lyrics read, “From thee my pain, in thee so blest.”
In m.16-25, Schubert decides to step away from the simple structure and introduce some secondary dominant and leading tone chords. M.16 immediately starts differently with a dynamic change to mezzo-forte in both the piano and the voice and a jarring viio7/V chord. It resolves to a V6 in the next measure to be followed by V/V in m.18 and another resolution to V in m.19. The voice in m.16 drones on the C, suspending it over most of m.17 until it finally resolves to the B♭. The lyrics from m.16-19 read, “Enter mine eyes, this heart draw near,” the secondary chords creating more importance on the words. M.20 repeats the secondary leading tone with its resolution in m.21 but instead of moving to the V/V again, Schubert moves to a different chord. “O come, O dwell,” is sung over m.20-21 and is followed by “Forever here,” on top of a IV6 moving to a I6/4. He repeats “Forever here,” in a piano dynamic over m.24-25 atop a V7 moving to a I, temporarily breaking the established verse structure, however creating a solid suspended resolution back to the tonic from the secondary chords. Also note the tasteful chromatic motion in the voice in m.24.
Schubert, in m.26-30, plays an interlude of sorts with the dynamic again returning to pianissimo. The chords aren’t very clear or identifiable except for the repeating E♭ in the bass, however Schubert uses many chromatic alterations and seems to be climbing down a set of chords, finally resolving to the I in m.30.
After the brief interlude, Schubert returns for another verse in m.31-38. This verse has the progression of I-vi6-I6 V7-I, the same as the first one, and is note-for-note similar, however the lyrics differ. The lyrics read, “Enter, and close the door, and come,” over m.31-34, followed with “And be this breast thine endless home,” for m.35-38.
In m.39-42, we see the familiar viio7/V - V6 - V4/3/V – V chord progression return, but this time without the mezzo-forte dynamic. It seems strange that the dynamic is left out here, however, the lyrics over the progression read, “Shut out all woe, all lesser care and woe,” followed in the next section by “I would thy hurt and healing know.” The words are sensitive and caring, so whether a conscious decision or not, Schubert reflected the sensuality of the text with the continuation of the pianissimo. In m.43-48, we see a verse ending similar to the prior one with the suspended resolution, however this time, the progression goes: V4/2/V – V6 – IV6 – I6/4 – V7 – I. Instead of starting with the repetition of the secondary leading tone, as it was the first time, another secondary dominant is used. The same method of repeating a lyric to prolong the resolution is applied here, but this time with the lyric “thy hurt and healing know.”
In m.49-53, Schubert repeats the piano interlude, except for this time, the dynamic marking is piano rather than pianissimo. This interlude acts as a means of preparing for the high-tension part of the piece, or the climax.
With m.54-61, Schubert makes the song take a large turn, incorporating lots of modal mixture. From the start of m.54, there is a dynamic change back to the mezzo-forte, while M.54-57’s chord progression is: I – ♭VI6 – ♭III - ♭VI, utilizing two mixture chords there. The ♭VI comes moderately unexpected in m.55, creating a significantly heightened sense of emotion. M.58-60 continues on with a V – V7/IV – IV, followed by a measure of rest. Just at the point where Schubert moves to the dominant, and one would expect a movement back towards the tonic, however, he seems to come to a rest on the IV chord. The V7/IV chord showcases the voice, utilizing a high G (with a forte marking) climbing to the A with the resolution to the IV chord. The lyrics in this section mirror the heightened tension and the sense that it is not all resolved, “Clear light that on my soul hath shone, my soul hath shone.”
In m.62-65, a familiar progression returns, copying what first appeared in m.22-25: IV6 – I6/4 – V7 – I. Here, the dynamic changes from the preceding forte back to pianissimo, creating a very dramatic shift coming from the measure of rest. The piano part (as well as the notes in the voice) remains exactly the same, except this time the lyrics read, “Still let it shine from thee alone.” In m.66-67, there seems to be a brief pause while the tonic is droned, preparing the listener for another use of modal mixture in the next section. M.66 has an E♭ in the bass, however it alternates between hitting a B♭ and an A in the tenor, as well as a D that is held out in the alto, and an initial F in the soprano, which all seem to be outlining a V7 chord. This measure seems to kind of play with the listener’s ears, sounding as though it is cycling from I to V, several times. It is followed by a measure of a solid I chord, giving the listener that tonic that they were just left questioning.
In m.68-75, we see an almost exact repeat of m.54-61, except instead of beginning on a mezzo-forte, it begins on a piano this time around. The I – ♭VI6 – ♭III - ♭VI progression remains the same, as well as the V – V7/IV – IV that follows it. The lyrics read, “Clear light that on my soul hath shone, my soul hath shone” yet again, returning this time to be evermore powerful because it is being repeated.
In m.76-81, we see an almost exact repeat of what was just presented in m.62-67. The progression remains the same, IV6 – I6/4 – V7 – I – I(V) – I, except this time some variations appear at the start of the IV6. The melody that was initially in the right hand is now notated for the left hand, freeing the right hand to embellish a new melody around the chords until the I(V) in m. 80. M.80 and m.81 are the same as m.66-67 except it now prepares for one final tonic strike in m.82, thus ending the piece.
Schubert crafted a brilliant and romantic song with “Du Bist Die Ruh,” full of a variety of dynamics and emotions. When the first secondary dominant and secondary leading tones appear in m.16, the song takes a turn for the “dramatic.” Prior to this moment in the piece, everything has been very simply stated and structured, using only three chords, I, V, and vi, but when the secondary leading tone first strikes, the entire mood of the piece is effected. The entire section also provides a very pleasant difference from all of the I-to-V motion.
Another key area starts in m.55, where the first mixture chord appears. The whole phrase is full of mixture chords, creating the most expressive and moody section of the piece. In addition to the mixture, there is a dynamic change to mezzo-forte for the first time in the piece, altering the mood of lightness created by so much piano or pianissimo playing. The progression starts on a I in m.54, cycles through several mixture chords, a crescendo appears in both the piano and the voice, ultimately leading to the climax of the piece in m.60. With a forte dynamic, we see a V7/IV going to a IV and the voice hits a high G going to an A♭, the highest note in the piece (besides when this section is repeated).
Du bist die Ruh. Perf. Elisabeth Schumann and Carl Alwin. YouTube. 13 Mar. 2008. 30 Nov. 2008