Thanks to my old friend and colleague Allison Charney for commissioning my ARRANGEMENTS AND DERANGEMENTS OF SCHUBERT for her group, the Ark Trio of soprano, cello, and piano. The premiere is tomorrow in New York.
The Schubert songs in the set are Nacht und traüme, Sei mir gegrüsst! Die manner sind mechant, Die forelle, and Rastlose liebe.
Here's my composer note from the score:
Franz Schubert's songs are so perfect that they are hard to adapt without feeling like you might be defacing them. So there are two impulses at work: 1) a very careful, respectful, almost reverential arrangement and 2) an aggressive reinterpretation or commentary which I've called "derangement" which is a jumble of de-arrange, deranged, and French déranger (disrupt, disturb).
The arrangements of three of the songs are clear. Create a cello line that meshes with the intent of the song and enhances it. Create a cello line that is fun to play and has melodic integrity.
The derangement of "Sei mir gegrüsst" reflects a 21st century view of the text. What may have seemed Romantic in Schubert's time, seems to me obsessive and even deluded. The cello plays Schubert's melody and the voice reinterprets Rückert's text. It is almost as if the singer is conjuring the words from hearing the song played by the cello.
As for "Die forelle," even Schubert in his own Trout Quintet, sticks to the jolly trout swimming in the brook. The English speaking audience glosses over the information that the trout is caught and dies. The structure of the original song reinforces that--it goes back to the swimmy, brooky music at the end. In this derangement, I've loosely translated the text and forced us to deal with the fish's demise. Like it or not, humankind can admire a creature's beauty and then turn around and catch it, shoot it, kill it, photograph it, and now post it on social media.
Allison Charney had patiently waited for me to do something with Schubert's songs for the ARK Trio (voice, cello, and piano). Finally, she did the best thing, scheduled a concert which imposed a deadline. I'm grateful to her for waiting me out and grateful for the opportunity to interact with these great songs. The delay was only because I wanted to have my arrangement-cake and then eat it too--derangement!
Hopefully Schubert is laughing, nodding, or humming along. And even if he's not, why should the regietheater directors have all the fun?