An Sylvia

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An Sylvia, D. 891; Op. 106, No. 4, is a Lied composed by Romantic era composer Franz Schubert in 1826 and published in 1828. Its text is a German translation of “Who is Silvia?” from Act IV, Scene II, of The Two Gentlemen of Verona by William Shakespeare. The translation was made by Eduard von Bauernfeld. The scoring is for voice and piano. An Sylvia was composed during a peak in Schubert's career around the time he was writing the Ninth Symphony "Great" (D 944), two years before his death.


Although considered to be myth, it is said that Schubert first came up with the idea to write An Sylvia as he was walking in Vienna and entered a beer garden with friends.[1] There, he found a volume of Shakespeare on a table and as he was reading, he apparently exclaimed, "Oh! I have such a pretty melody running in my head. If only I had some paper!" [2] His friend drew staves on the back of a menu, and, as it came to his head, Schubert spontaneously wrote melodies to the words he was reading in the play.[2]

The handwritten score was originally entitled "Gesang" and appeared within a small booklet labeled "Währing, July 1826" (Währing was a town outside of Vienna where Schubert stayed with his friend Franz von Schober).[3] The score had no tempo markings and served as Schubert's only draft of "An Sylvia" which allowed him to write additional notes in the score over time as ideas came to him.[4] In addition, the title "Gesang" was crossed out and instead "An Sylvia" was written in its place.[4] An Sylvia became one of three Shakespeare texts set to music by Schubert; the other two are Ständchen ('Hark, hark! the lark') and Trinklied ('Bacchus, feister Fürst des Weins', D. 888).[5]

Schubert's friend, Franz von Schober, held on to the original manuscript and managed Schubert's music after the composer's death.[4] After the Lithographic Institute of Vienna published An Sylvia in 1828, Schober published it himself shortly after. Later on, in 1829, An Sylvia was assigned "op. 106" after Anton Diabelli published the work.[4]


An Sylvia was composed in bar form, which follows a pattern of AAB: a main melody, or Stollen, followed by an ending melody known as the Abgesang. The majority of the piece stays in close proximity to the tonic and is generally simplistic in form. However, the second phrase of the stollen (A') is the only phrase that passes through the third scale degree and demonstrates Schubert's ability to bring out emotional qualities through unexpected changes in the harmonization.[6] In addition, the B section is the only phrase to cadence on the tonic. An Sylvia is characteristically strophic and contains three stanzas that repeat over the same music. Other key features of An Sylvia include an echo in the piano at the ends of phrases, ascending figures in the piano accompaniment's bass, and a separate melodic figure in the piano's top (treble) staff at the end of the B phrase. All of these characteristics demonstrate Schubert's emphasis on interdepedency between the melody and the accompaniment.


The poem introduces Sylvia who is characterized as a beautiful, fair, and innocent woman admired by her suitors. The question becomes whether or not Sylvia is as kind as she is attractive, because only kindness can make her beautiful. When Sylvia is in love with one of the suitors, her eyes appear softer, helping the suitor to see that she is a kind and caring person.

Was ist Silvia, saget an,
Daß sie die weite Flur preist?
Schön und zart seh ich sie nahn,
Auf Himmelsgunst und Spur weist,
Daß ihr alles untertan.

Ist sie schön und gut dazu?
Reiz labt wie milde Kindheit;
Ihrem Aug’ eilt Amor zu,
Dort heilt er seine Blindheit
Und verweilt in süßer Ruh.

Darum Silvia, tön, o Sang,
Der holden Silvia Ehren;
Jeden Reiz besiegt sie lang,
Den Erde kann gewähren:
Kränze ihr und Saitenklang!

Who is Silvia? What is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair, and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being helped, inhabits there.

Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us garlands bring.[7]


Schubert dedicated An Sylvia to one of his donors, Marie Pachler, a successful woman, talented pianist and composer from Graz who knew Beethoven personally and enjoyed bringing musicians over to her house for entertainment.[8]


  1. ^ Pegram, Robert Bruce. "Interpretative Analysis: "Who is Sylvia?" By Franz Schubert". The Etude Music Magazine. Etude Magazine. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b Pegram
  3. ^ Reed, John (1997). The Schubert Song Companion. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press. p. 49. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b c d Reed pg 49
  5. ^ Woodstra, Chris; Brennan, Gerald; Schrott, Allen. "All Music Guide to Classical Music: The Definitive Guide to Classical Music". Backbeat Books 2005. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  6. ^ Hadow, William Henry (1904). The Oxford History of Music (Vol 5 ed.). Oxford: Oxford at the Clarendon Press. p. 340. Retrieved 11 February 2016. an sylvia history.
  7. ^ "Schubert - An Sylvia". Art Song Central. WordPress. Retrieved 11 February 2016.
  8. ^ Brown, John Edwin; Sams, Eric (1990). The New Grove Schubert. W.W. Norton & Company. Retrieved 11 February 2016.