Here Schubert uses two of Novalis’s strophes to make one musical verse. Once again the form is absolutely strophic despite the temptation to provide musical illustrations for verbal imagery along the way. The composer might have given in to these had he been in another mood. There are no tempo markings to the Novalis hymns, but the writing of this one, with its throbbing quaver accompaniment, implies an urgency lacking in the first three. It should come across that the singer, having seen the light, is anxious to impart his or her faith in a blaze of glowing testimony and inner conviction. Once again the manner of expression is determinedly and deliberately antiquated and what the Germans call ‘schlicht’ – simple and unpretentious. The awkward key juxtaposition with the previous hymn (B flat followed by A major) seems to refute the idea that these little works were meant to be performed as a cycle of any sort. The bass Robert Holl once told of a performance of these hymns in a church; they were not all sung together but were interpolated in a service, each song being sung from a different part of the church by a different singer, with organ accompaniment. Holl, one of the great Schubertians of our time, was very moved by this experience, and it seems that this music needs such a liturgical setting for us to hear it as the composer imagined it – as if different members of a Pietist congregation were standing up and to give spontaneous testimony to their faith.
This poem glows with Novalis’s belief in an afterlife which is present with us all, and there for the taking, but it has not exactly set Schubert’s mind on fire in the way that we might have wished. And it is hard to tell the difference between a shortfall of inspiration and a self-imposed stylistic rigour. Schubert’s own muse has taken a back seat to the muse of Novalis and suppressed itself in favour of the music inherent in the poet’s language, there is no doubt that the native German listener, able to understand the powerful text as it is sung, is immeasurably better off than the English music lover.
from notes by Graham Johnson © 1997