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Gmunden

Gmunden by Lake Traun, Austria

Gmunden by Lake Traun

  1. The Town of Gmunden
  2. Schubert and Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott
  3. Synopsis of Lady of the Lake
  4. Ellen's Songs
  5. Lady of the Lake Songs and Gmunden

The Town of Gmunden

Gmunden is located at the northern end of Lake Traun. The town was quite developed in the 18-to-19th centuries because it was an important link between the salt-mining towns to the southwest and Vienna to the east. Because of the lake on which salt was transported, it was a transportation hub. Later it became a resort where families of the Habsburg and other literary and musical types came to stay. Lake Traun is surrounded by mountains on its shore with its fjord-like shoreline. The major mountain is called Traunstein (1691 m), a rocky peak which can be viewed from everywhere along the lake.

Schubert and Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott

In 1825 Schubert became acquainted with the poems of a Scottish poet, Sir Walter Scott through the German translation. Since Scott was a very popular poet and novelist, Schubert thought that if he could publish his song compositions with both German and English text, he might be better known outside Austria. With that in mind, Schubert set seven of the thirteen songs embedded in Lady of the Lake by Scott, which was first published in 1810. The seven songs are five solo songs (three Ellen's songs, Norman's song and Malcolm Graeme's song-Lay of the Imprisoned Huntsman) and two choruses, one for women, Coronach, and the other for men, Boat Song. These seven songs are not the only ones by Scott Schubert set to music; his other settings of Walter Scott's poems are: Lied der Anne Lyle, D 830 (from Montrose) and Gesang der Norna, D 831 (from The Pirate).

Synopsis of Lady of the Lake

The verse epic of six cantos unfolds in the Highland of Perthshire at the lake, Loch Katrine, and involves a battle between King James V of Scotland and Highland clans. King James V was known to walk around in disguise to find out what was going on in his kingdom. Using this historical fact as a basis, Scott built a story in which the king, disguised as a knight with a name of James Fitz-James, receives hospitality in the home of Roderick Dhu, a Highland clan chief.

The King, while hunting on the bank of Loch Katrine, gets lost. There he runs into a young woman, Ellen, the daughter of the outlawed Lord James of Douglas. Ellen brings him to the home of Roderick Dhu. The King falls in love with her, but he is not the only suitor to Ellen. The others are Roderick Dhu and Malcolm Graeme, whom Ellen loves. Because of threat of a royal attack on the Highlanders, Roderick summons his clans. Douglas, meanwhile, decides to surrender himself to the King. The King, disguised as James Fitz-James again, proposes to Ellen, but Ellen refuses and confesses her love for another. He gives her a signet ring that would allow her to ask for a boon from the King. A fight between the King and Roderick takes place, in which Roderick becomes wounded. Ellen goes to Stirling Castle to beg the King for her father’s pardon with her signet ring. The King and Douglas are reconciled. Roderick dies of his wounds, and Ellen marries Malcolm Graeme, who has been a prisoner at the castle.

Ellen's Songs

Ellen’s first and second songs that Schubert set to music appear in Canto I of the poem as ones which Ellen sings as the disguised King is led to his bed for the night. Musically, Ellen’s first song is in rondo form with the design A-B-A-C-B-A. The music alternates between light martial rhythms and magic harp- like sounds. Ellen’s second song has the A-B-A’ design with the sound of the hunting horn. The first song has a lullaby-type quality alternating with martial rhythms.

Ellen’s third song is the famous "Ave Maria." The song is actually titled "Hymn to the Virgin" and is located in Canto III in Scott’s Lady of the Lake. Canto III describes the summons to battle made by Rhoderick Dhu with the Fiery Cross. The cross is passed around from Ellen's Island on Loch Katrine and back through several lochs and mountains in the region. Loch Katrine is not a fictionary lake but a real one, currently used as a water reservoir for the city of Glasgow. The mountains surrounding the lake are typicalHighland mountains with rugged rocks being exposed on the sides and tops. Ellen sings the "Ave Maria" in a cave on the side of a mountain called Ben Venue on the southern shore of the lake, fearing the safety of herself and her father in the impending battle between the Highlanders and the King of Scotland.

Lady of the Lake Songs and Gmunden

Schubert along with Johann Michael Vogl, a well-known baritone, spent six weeks in Gmunden from June 4 to July 15, 1825. In Gmunden Schubert and Vogl were the guest of Traweger who lived at Theatergasse 8. They dined at the house of Honorable Hofrath v. Schiller, the chief official of the entire Salzkammergut. They made music with a school teacher Johann Nepomuk Wolf and his daughter Nanette Wolf. While there Schubert and Vogl visited Florian Maximilian Clodi at Schloss Ebenzweier in the neighboring town of Altmünster and made music there as well.
Schloss Ebenzweier
Traunstein in Alpenglow
from Altmuenster Pier

The earliest date attached to Schubert's settings of Ellen's songs is April 1825. It is believed that all the Ellen's songs including "Ave Maria" were first performed in Gmunden. Schubert described favorable responses of the audience to his "hymn to Maria" in his letters to Spaun, dated July 21 and to his parents, dated July 25. It is plausible that Schubert put a further touch on his manuscript in Gmunden as he watched the lake and the surrounding mountains. (Two views of Traunstein, photo on the left from Altmünster in sunset and one on the right from Gmunden © 1995 Tomoko Yamamoto)


Update: November 1, 2006
© 1997-2006 Tomoko Yamamoto

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